Jan. 16, 2017
by Jon Cooper | The Good Word
There’s no surefire method to making a video go viral.
With video capabilities on smartphones, the hair-trigger fingers hitting record and the perfect dumping ground for all of this on YouTube, everybody has a shot.
Turns out four college student-athletes performing a 4×50 medley relay — in the snow was just what the Internet world was looking for.
Those four college student-athletes were Georgia Tech junior Brad Oberg, sophomores Colt Williamson and Matt Casillas and freshman Aidan Pastel. They took the Jan. 7 postponement of the second day of their tri-meet with Kentucky and host Virginia Tech due to weather conditions as an opportunity to have some fun and become an Internet sensation.
“A couple of us were talking and we were just like, `Hey, we want to go out in the snow and swim,’ Oberg recalled. “Aiden and Colt were there and said, `Hey, let’s make it a relay.’ We thought it would be pretty funny to do. I don’t think any of us expected this to happen but it was pretty cool when, I guess, halfway through Saturday we started seeing Georgia Tech was posting about it and some of our friends were texting us and saying, `Is that y’all?'”
“Once the meet was cancelled we were like, `Well, we have nothing to do.’ So we went out and played in the snow. It was kind of Brad’s idea to do like a competition, race-type thing,” Casillas said. “Then once Colt came there were four of us and he said, `We should do a relay.’ So it was kind of a combination of ideas that accumulated into this.”
Pastel provided the camera and junior Kira de Bruyn did the filming.
“She was out there before with a group of the girls and we were like, `Hey, can someone videotape this?'” Pastel said. “She was like, `Okay,’ and she used my phone. The video was posted on my Twitter account and on my phone and so when it started to gain more traction some of the bigger news companies started to ask, `If you’re in the video, would you mind telling us who took the video?’ Just for like legal reasons and things. So when people have asked I’ve told them Kira’s the one who took it.”
After about an hour, to everyone’s surprise, it took off.
“Usually you get a bunch of likes on it and then it dies out and that’s what it is,” Pastel said. “But this kept going and it started to pick up even more.
“CNN actually contacted me on Twitter. That’s when we were like, `Oh my gosh, this is insane!'” he added, with a laugh.
In the first 48 hours the video received over 7.5 million views on Georgia Tech and the Georgia Tech Swimming & Diving Facebook pages and was shared over 87,000 times, including by outlets such as Team USA, ESPN’s SportsCenter, The Weather Channel, Swimming World, SwimSwam and BuzzFeed.
It was retweeted almost 2,100 times and received over 4,900 likes video, while on Instagram it was viewed over 31,000 times on either the @GeorgiaTech, @GTathletics or @GTSwimDive pages.
Locally, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Macon Telegraph, WSB-TV 2 Atlanta, Fox5 Atlanta and 11 Alive, were among those posting it on their web sites, while Good Morning America, ABC News, CNN, USA Today, The Washington Post, Yahoo, AccuWeather, The Weather Channel, Swimming World Magazine, The CW33, ESPN, Fox Sports and SBNation and outlets from The Miami Herald to Washington state’s Tri-City Herald followed suit nationally.
The quartet admitted that all this glory came at a price as it was kind of tough sledding trying to complete their leg — especially coming back. But all four couldn’t stop laughing and chirping as last week, a 70-degree day in Atlanta, they critiqued each other while piled onto a couch in the warmth of the lounge inside the locker room at the McAuley Aquatic Center.
“The funny thing, Aidan and I were actually doing our main strokes,” said Oberg, who went third, doing butterfly, preceding Pastel’s freestyle. “I think my technique was probably the worst out of everyone. Matt’s was the best and he’s a diver. So snow swimming doesn’t really translate to actual swimming.”
“It actually is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be,” said Williamson, who went second doing his best breast stroke, following Casilla’s leadoff back stroke. “Going down wasn’t bad but on the way back I couldn’t move at all. I had a good dive so just getting out there and actually sliding on the snow first before anything else. But then I would try to pull with my arms more than moving your feet because you can’t really get your feet under to go forward.”
One of the biggest fans of the video was Georgia Tech swimming and diving head coach Courtney Shealy Hart.
“I thought they did a fantastic job. They could use a little more technique work, but we will get that as we get into championship season,” she said, with a laugh.
“I give their teamwork a 10! You can’t tell Matt is a diver unless someone points it out,” she added. “It has been fun to watch this video take off all over the world.”
The next night, Aidan explained “going viral” to his dad, Teauge, who is stationed with the Marines in Bahrain, seven hours ahead.
“I called him and was like, `Hey, dad. My video’s gone viral.’ He’s like, `What?'” Pastel said. “Now he knows. His biggest thing was just, `Don’t be an idiot.’ My mom was similar. She said, `The spotlight’s going to be on you guys for a while so just be really careful when it comes to social media about what you say and stuff.'”
The group, which is still looking for a name (so far “The Freaky Four,” “The Freezing Four,” “The Frostbitten Four” have been bandied about) have done their share of interviews but remain mum on what lies ahead. They haven’t ruled out seeking more January meets up north but more likely will look for another way to draw Internet eyeballs.
“I’m not really sure,” said Casillas. “This one wasn’t planned so I guess we never really know what will happen. The best things are never planned.”
“We had talked about maybe starting a YouTube page or something and making it a yearly thing, the snow swimming,” Pastel said. “That’s very much in development. We’ll see how that goes.”
He added, “I can scratch [going viral] off the bucket list.”