Most people know UCSB men’s water polo attacker Matt Gronow as the talented Aussie in the pool.
With the team’s regular season over and MPSF Championships approaching, the team captain currently leads the Gaucho offense in goals this season with 56. He also has 34 assists on the season, second best on the squad, giving him a point total of 90, which is far above anybody else for UCSB.
From the surface, he is just like every other busy collegiate athlete, but it is his driving motivators of living a life full of passion and genuine love for others that separate him from the crowd.
Gronow starts most of his mornings at Cajé. He has a standard order that consists of an agave latte, a cheese bagel with plain cream cheese and lemon pepper and a bottle of orange juice on occasion. He has a serious love for breakfast food in general, but he lists bagels as his absolute favorite and jokes about a period of time where that was all he ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
During the interview, friends passing by bombard him with hellos. Like any UCSB athlete, Gronow is well-known in the Santa Barbara community.
However, unlike many that might just return a simple, “Hello,” Gronow gives his full attention to each individual that approaches him. Not only was he participating in a detailed, one-on-one interview, but he was also making time for and expressing genuine interest in every conversation.
This caring attitude comes as a result of striving to live out of honor for his dad.
“When I was younger, it was embarrassing; he would strike up conversations with everyone,” Gronow said. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but now that I think about it, if I could have one trait about me from him, it would be the ability to be personable with everyone.”
Gronow describes himself as always being a family man, but the recent passing of his dad gave a whole new meaning to the importance of loved ones.
“With Dad passing away, something clicked in my mind … things can happen,” said Gronow.
He explained that most people have been surprised by his ability to talk so openly and honestly about the situation, but he credits his amazing support system for this newfound strength.
In Santa Barbara, Gronow is constantly surrounded by his teammates, whom he describes as being the best distraction from the situation. When Head Coach Wolf Wigo first broke the news to the team, Gronow remembers his phone lighting up for hours with text messages and calls from all of his teammates and their family members.
“I will never forget these guys; they are definitely family,” said Gronow. “It sounds weird, but I know their smells … I could tell you a million things about each of them.”
Back home in Australia, Gronow’s support comes from his immediate family. He describes his older siblings Chris and Ali and his mom as being the biggest influences on the person he is today.
Gronow grew up in Essendon, Australia, a suburban neighborhood just outside of Melbourne. He spent his younger days shadowing his older brother Chris and constantly seeking advice from his sister Ali. When asked about his mom he says flat out, “My mum is crazy.” After a brief pause, he laughs and admits to being a total momma’s boy.
When he was younger, he never shared the common childhood ideal of becoming a firefighter or an astronaut, but instead has always dreamed of standing atop a podium, medal in hand, representing his country as an Olympian.
“Pretty much everything about his game has improved,” Wigo said. “He has put himself in a position where that is definitely a reality in the future if he chooses that path.”
After an early morning of practice and breakfast at Cajé, Gronow heads across the street to his job at Embarcadero Hall. He works in a small office off the main lecture hall where he assists professors in prepping their power points and setting up their microphones.
After a short two-hour shift, it’s back to the long-term Olympic grind. Gronow heads to the athletic training center to meet his teammates for an afternoon of weights.
Walking into the training center, “Get on My Level,” by Wiz Khalifa plays in the background as workout motivation, but that doesn’t last long. Gronow walks into the trainer’s office and changes the music from rap to a playlist that gives off more of a modern, Ellie Goulding vibe. He says he doesn’t like rap music, and describes Jack Johnson as more his style.
Although all of the players are completing their training circuits individually, their playful conversations and joking mannerisms in between sets make it apparent that they function as a single team unit.
“He has done a great job as captain keeping the guys motivated and keeping the team together as a group,” Wigo said. “It has been the most consistent year for UCSB in a really long time, and he has contributed to that.”
Gronow approached his role as team captain and leader through living by example. He believes it is better to create an equal relationship between the older and younger guys on the team by helping them choose their classes and hanging out with them outside of water polo.
With only one month left in Santa Barbara before his graduation, Gronow hopes to say goodbye to the hundreds of people that have offered him friendship and have contributed to the ultimate California experience. He will then return to his native Australia to continue to play competitive water polo.
Gronow is truly a product of his environment. With his appearance branded by sunshine and chlorine, and his heart molded by his amazing community of family and friends, he approaches each day with the goal of living passionately.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of November 19th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Magali Gauthier of the Daily Nexus.