Peter Paulus IV thought he was done with swimming.
A Texas 5A state champion in high school, Paulus didn’t touch a pool for about a year and a half after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Struggling with depression, he put aside a potential college career to attend the University of Colorado, which doesn’t field a varsity swimming and diving team.
But then he tuned into last year’s Olympic Trials and watched his former club teammate from middle school, David Johnston, make the finals of both the 1500 free and 400 IM. All of a sudden, a switch flipped.
“He had always talked a lot of big game growing up,” Paulus said of Johnston, now a junior at Texas. “When we were 15, 16, he said he was going to make Trials, make the final, everything. At the time, he was very slow. No one had ever heard of him. To see him actually do what he said, it kind of motivated me.”
At Colorado, Paulus rekindled his love for swimming on the school’s club team. He took home two gold medals (50 butterfly, 50 freestyle) and two silvers (100 breast, 100 fly) at the College Club National Championships in April, totaling the second-most points at the meet among male swimmers.
Still hungry to race once the season ended, Paulus went to the Mission Viejo stop of the Pro Swim Series in June and crossed paths with Johnston for the first time in years. They had such a good time catching up during the meet that Johnston invited Paulus to stay out in California and train with eight-time Olympic coach Mark Schubert and The Swim Team for the rest of the summer. Paulus didn’t have plans and his aunt lived nearby, so he said yes, signing up for a swimming bootcamp of sorts that altered the course of his career.
Paulus jumped from short-yardage training in Colorado to 10 swims weekly amounting to “tens of thousands of meters per week.” On days he didn’t have multiple practices, he even learned how to surf with Johnston.
“For the first few weeks I was dying,” Paulus said. “But after a few weeks, I started noticing — after changing my technique and spending more time in the pool with people and getting help from other coaches and David and other swimmers on the team — I started improving a lot and doing a lot faster times in practice.”
When Johnston got a call from longtime Texas head coach Eddie Reese asking if there was anyone out there he should recruit, one swimmer immediately came to mind. And Reese was already familiar with the Paulus family name.
Peter Paulus IV’s uncle, William Paulus, swam for Reese a few decades ago as a member of his first national championship team in 1981. That same year, William Paulus became Reese’s first world record holder in the 100-meter butterfly, clocking the first sub-54 second time in history. He even qualified for the Olympic team with times that would have won gold medals had the U.S. not boycotted the 1980 Olympics.
Naturally, Reese was impressed by the connection and told the younger Paulus to enter the transfer portal. Soon enough, there was another Longhorn in the Paulus family.
“When I was growing up, I was always a Texas fan because of my uncle,” said Paulus, who will be a junior this season. “I would always root for Texas. I always wanted to go there. Now I’m here, spontaneously, having a fun time.”
Given how much Paulus has improved over the past few months, Johnston is excited for the potential of his new roommate this season.
“He became a lot more committed to the sport,” Johnston said of Paulus’ development this summer. “Once he started training full-time with me, I noticed that he was getting a lot faster, he was getting a lot more endurance, and he started talking about things that he wanted to do in the future.
“When I first met this summer, he was saying, ‘I don’t know if I want to do college swimming,’” Johnston recalled of Paulus. “Later on in the summer after the work we had done and hanging around each other, he said, ‘You know, I want to be a college swimmer. I want to come to Texas.’ I saw him develop a lot mentally and physically this summer, and I think he’s ready to have a great year here. I know he’s having a lot of fun.”
Paulus said he’s focusing on filling a hole in the Texas sprint group after the Longhorns lost Drew Kibler and Cameron Auchinachie over the offseason.
“My goal is to try to be a valuable asset on the freestyle relays,” Paulus said.