BYU senior swimmer Jeff Ferrell. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
Coaches, teammates and family describe him as hard working, outgoing, funny and one that can make you “laugh for days.” He loves surfing, napping, computers, movies, eating meat and of course, swimming.
Civil engineering major, 6-foot-2 senior swimmer Jeffrey Ferrell grew up in Glendora, Calif. where he started swimming at the age of eight. His older brother and sister (John and Monica) had started doing a summer swim league and enjoyed it so much they decided they wanted to keep swimming.
“My parents found a club team for John and Monica and they swam there for about four or five months and then [my younger sister] Kirsty and I really wanted to do it too,” said Ferrell. “We went to their swim meets and we loved it. Soon, the whole caravan of Ferrells all went to club swimming.”
Ferrell really enjoyed swimming with his siblings over the years. He said that being with his siblings really helped him to not slack off in his swimming.
“The whole group was going to 6 a.m. practice during the summer, so you didn’t want to be the lazy one and not go when everyone else was going,” said Ferrell. “I guess if I were an only child I would’ve wanted to stay home more.”
After seeing his older brother, John, getting better and better at swimming as he grew, Ferrell started to think that he would eventually be able to be fast enough to swim in college.
“John’s swimming career really took off to a point where he could make collegiate swimming,” said Ferrell. “And so for me, I kind of always knew that I would follow suit because I was short freshman and sophomore year and I wasn’t very good, but it gave me hope that I would get better once I grew. Now I’m taller than him.”
Both Ferrell and his brother John swam the same events in high school and college – the backstroke and the 500 free. Ferrell’s times in the 200 back and 500 free are now faster than John’s fastest times, but John still has Ferrell beat in the 100 back.
“We’ll see if this year I can beat his time in the 100 back because he still has a better time than me in that,” said Ferrell.
“Jeff swam amazing times last year and beat his older brother’s times,” said Nancy Ferrell, Jeff’s mother. “Right after his race he was on the phone with John. John said he almost broke down in tears – that was a great moment for me. They have always been so supportive of each other and John was always happy for Jeff doing well.”
After having two siblings on the BYU swim team, it was somewhat easy for Ferrell to be recruited by the Cougars. However, an accident at the end of his senior year caused him to do a lot of praying and hoping for the best.
BYU head coach Tim Powers told Ferrell that he needed to go under a 4:40 in the 500 free to get a scholarship at BYU and Ferrell wanted to complete that so he didn’t have to walk on.
“In April during spring break while we were at a swim camping trip, I sprained my ankle,” said Ferrell. “Our big CIF meet was the next week and my ankle was the size of a baseball. I was really sad that it would blow my whole season and I would have to walk-on at BYU, but a miracle happened.
“I prayed a lot and the day at CIF where I was going to swim the 500 free, all the pain went away and I swam a 4:39, making it just under the mark. The next day my ankle was killing me and I could barely walk on it, but I had accomplished my goal and that experience was a testimony-builder for me.”
After the meet was over, Ferrell called Powers to tell him that he went under a 4:40 and Powers said he already looked it up and so he offered him the scholarship.
“It was a cool experience when I signed with BYU,” said Ferrell. “Just thinking of where I had come from my freshman and sophomore years of high school, to receiving a scholarship at BYU was amazing. I was not anywhere near my brother or the type of swimmer Tim was looking for in my first two years on high school varsity, but a miracle happened.”
After swimming for the Cougars for four years, Ferrell never regretted his decision of coming to BYU.
“I love it here,” he said. “I met my wife here and I wouldn’t have met her if I didn’t go here. I love the coaches and I love all the guys on the team. I like representing BYU. You get a lot of good missionary opportunities when you travel and are able to talk to people about what BYU stands for and you get to answer people’s questions about Mormons. It’s always really fun.”
Not only did Ferrell have ample opportunities to talk to people about his beliefs while swimming for BYU, he took a two-year break from swimming to serve a full-time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Armenia.
“It was an amazing experience,” he said. “It was life-changing. It kind of gave me a new perspective on life and it definitely formed my testimony. It helped me to realize what was really important in life. Swimming was always the main thing in my life. I always went to Church, but it was on my mission where I really realized that there is more to life than just swimming and school.”
In many LDS missions, missionaries will have cars or ride bikes to get around, knocking doors and finding people with whom to share their message. In Armenia, the missionaries were not allowed to knock doors or approach someone and say that they were missionaries.
“We would ride the bus and we could strike up a conversation with someone and say that we’re Americans and then they would ask why we were there, and why we spoke Armenian. Not until then could we tell them that we were missionaries,” said Ferrell.
He enjoyed teaching in a country where there are many Christian believers. It is believed that Bartholomew and Thaddeus, two of Christ’s apostles, were killed in the Armenian area, thus being one of the first nations to claim Christianity in 301 A.D.
“It was very interesting to be on the bus and hear people talking about the Bible in everyday conversation where in America we talk about what’s on ESPN or what’s on the news,” said Ferrell. “They were talking about religion to random strangers on the bus. They were definitely really prepared to hear what we had to teach.”
With the Armenian mission only opened in 1999, the Church was not very established with members.
“In my first area, my companion and I would have to conduct everything on Sundays,” he said. “I would play the piano and then he would conduct the music. If we had a baptism, we would confirm them in church. Next we would bless the sacrament and we had one deacon to pass the sacrament. We would both give the talks because the people we asked to give the talks wouldn’t show up and then we would teach Sunday School.”
In Ararat, his first area, Ferrell had a great experience that was an answer to many prayers. He and his companion intently prayed to find and baptize someone who could eventually run the group of members so the missionaries didn’t have to always do everything.
“A member in the congregation said that she had found some people for us to teach,” said Ferrell. “We went with her to this couple’s apartment and they gave us some cookies and some herbal tea and we started teaching them our message and about 10 minutes into the lesson the man, Andranik, says, ‘We have been exposed to your church before in Russia.’”
Andranik then pulls out pictures with about 10 different sets of missionaries and then pulls out a baptismal certificate. Andranik and his wife had already been baptized.
“We were ecstatic to have found someone who was already a member that could eventually lead the congregation,” said Ferrell. “That was the most direct answer to a prayer that we had ever gotten. We were amazed with this little town where it takes 15 minutes to walk from one end to the other - it’s about the size of BYU – and they had never seen missionaries there after living there for a year.”
Andranik eventually became the president of the congregation, transitioning the group from 20 members to 200 in a matter of months.
“It was really cool to turn the reigns over to the members from the missionaries doing everything,” said Ferrell.
Although Ferrell would never trade his mission experience for anything, he did not enjoy coming back to BYU heavier and out of shape.
“It was terrible getting back into training,” he said. “My sophomore year was my worst year ever. My first couple meets were really rough, but by November I was right back where I was when I came in as a freshman. However, somehow at conference championships at the end of the year I scored two points because I apparently didn’t hit my taper right.”
“You hear all these amazing stories of athletes that sacrifice these two years to go on a mission and then when they come back they are 10-times better than they were when they left,” said Ferrell. “I was expecting these fireworks and I came back and it was terrible. I felt like I let the team down and it was a bad year, but I rebounded very well my junior year, so made it worth it.”
Although his swim season didn’t go as well as planned, his sophomore year was stellar for one other reason: meeting his future wife.
“We were in the same ward and she was my Family Home Evening leader,” said Ferrell. “My first semester back from my mission I had some hard classes and I never went to FHE, but when the new year started, I decided to make a resolution to go to FHE.”
After talking to her a couple times, she gave a talk in church and caught Ferrell’s attention.
“She was looking really cute that day and she gave a really spiritual talk,” said Ferrell. “I could tell that she had a really deep testimony of the gospel. That to me, was the most impressive thing, because that’s what I had always wanted.”
After that experience, Ferrell called her and asked her out and she turned him down the first time because she was already planning on babysitting her nieces and nephews.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh shoot! She rejected me!’ but then she said, ‘Well how about next Saturday?’ So I had some hope,” said Ferrell. “We started dating right before conference in February and we were engaged in May and married in August.”
Ferrell married Sarah Hale in the Newport Beach, Calif. temple Aug. 14, 2007. The couple is now expecting their first child, Jackson Clark Ferrell to be born in mid-April.
Ferrell reflects on his time at BYU as years he’ll never forget, his favorite swimming moment coming last year at conference championships in the 500 free finals.
“I had gotten ninth in the 500 free and Stott Bushnell was in 10th in prelims,” he said. “We were both over a body length ahead of the field for the whole thing. He ended up beating me by only .40 seconds. Stott went a 4:25.8 and I went a 4:26.2.”
His goal was to achieve less than a 4:30 in finals because he clocked a 4:28 in prelims. He was surprised to see a 4:26 on the board after finishing the race.
“Because Stott was there and I wanted to beat him so bad, our times would have finished third or fourth in the finals heat,” said Ferrell. “It was a fun race, I will always remember it.”
As Ferrell reflects on his time at BYU, so does his family, coaches and teammates.
“The most enjoyable thing that I have had while swimming at BYU is to already have my best friend on the team,” Ferrell’s sister and teammate Kirsty said. “Jeff and I did everything together – it’s like having an instant support system all the time. He’s like my idol. I’ll miss the most being able to spend four yours a day with him.”
“I am very grateful for sports because my kids are good friends,” said Nancy. “Swimming has done that for my kids. I am sad that Jeff and Kirsty are finishing up their last year because we have loved being around the organization for 10 years.”
“I really like all those Ferrell kids,” said Powers. “They are really grounded in the gospel and are going to make good moms and dads. I’ll miss the most that they are such a great family – they’re the whole package.”
After finishing the swim season, Ferrell plans on graduating with a degree in civil engineering in December and then starting right into a masters program. He plans to work for his parents to gain experience and then come back to BYU to get an MBA to eventually run the business of a large corporation.
“I know that Jeff will achieve whatever he sets out to do in his life,” said Nancy. “He hasn’t failed yet and I know he won’t in the future.”