Swimmer is Two-Time All-American in 1650-yard Freestyle

Ben Byers ’07 wants to defend his title in the 1000 freestyle at NESCACs and also win the
Posted 02/01/07
Q: How did a young man from Seattle, Wash. become interested in attending Wesleyan University?

A: Both my parents grew up in New York, my dad in White Plains, my mom in
Brooklyn, so when I decided I wanted to come to the East Coast for college they suggested, among others, Wesleyan. Once I’d begun the application process I started talking to the swimming coach Mary Bolich and realized the program was a good fit for me.

Q: What did you think of the Wesleyan Natatorium the first time you saw it?

A: The pool is fantastic, I grew up swimming at the University of Washington pool, which is the home to a top 25 program nationally, and the Wesleyan Natatorium blows it away. It really is an amazing facility, and was a big part of why Wesleyan was one of my top choices.

Q: You accomplished something very few Wesleyan athletes have ever done – you set a team record in the 1000-yard freestyle during your very first event as a freshman. Were you surprised by that?

A: I was very surprised. What a lot of people don’t know is that I really wasn’t very good before I came to college. That swim was actually a best time for me by 15 seconds, which is a big drop under any circumstances, let alone in the first meet of the season.

Q: You have since set and broken numerous team records in distance freestyle races. You are a two-time All-American in the 1650-yard freestyle and a two-event NESCAC champion. To this point, what would you say was the highlight of your swimming career?

A: There are two moments in my career that really jump at out me when I think back. Both happened my sophomore year. The first was our tri-meet against Bowdoin and Colby. We were swimming at Bowdoin, and we were not doing very well. We were losing to Colby, a team we should have been beating, by a large margin with four individual events and one relay left to swim. Essentially the only way for us to win was to win every event left. We huddled up and tried to get everyone as fired up as possible. Jeff Stein won the 200-yard breaststroke, I won the 500 freestyle and Rob Mitchell finished 2nd, then Josh Tanz won the 100 butterfly. The final individual event was the 200 IM (individual medley), and Jeff Stein and I stepped up against one of Colby’s best swimmers. With the entire team behind our lanes screaming their lungs out we gave it our all. Going into the final 50 –the freestyle leg of the individual medley– I was a body length behind the Colby swimmer, but managed to make up the space and touch him out, and ended up going a best time, which to this day is still my fastest 200IM. Finally, our 200 Freestyle relay team won, giving us a win over Colby by 10 points, a slim margin in a dual meet. This was really special for me because it was a huge team effort, which is often something that is missing in swimming, which tends to be an individualistic sport.

Q: What is the other?

A: The other memory is the1000 freestyle at NESCAC championships later that same year, which were hosted at the Wesleyan Natatorium. Steve Spinelli of Williams and I swam pretty much dead even the entire time, but over the last 50 yards I managed to build a lead and win the race. This was my first NESCAC championships win, and to do it at Wesleyan in front of my friends and family was an amazing feeling.

Q: With the 2007 NESCAC Championships right around the corner and most likely a fourth trip to Nationals after that, what have you set your sights on?

A: I’d like to defend my title in the 1000-yard freestyle at NESCACs and also win the
1650-yard. Also, I’ve never really had a good meet at nationals, so this is my last chance to swim up to my potential. My goal is to be top three in the country in the mile, and make it back to the top 16 in the 500 and 200 free events at nationals.

Q: During your Wesleyan swimming career, the team took training trips to
San Diego and Puerto Rico. How would you describe those experiences?

A: These trips are really the widest range of pain and pleasure. Hanging out with the team in the sun is amazing, and brings us closer together than any other type of event could, but the training is intense and painful. On some days we’ll go 16,000 meters in the pool, over 10 miles of swimming, in four hours, along with a variety of dry land activities. Looking back I’m always glad I went, but while I’m there I can’t wait for it to be over.

Q: How would you characterize your head coach, Mary Bolich?

A: Mary is dedicated. She cares deeply about the team, both in and out of the pool. She has done a great job since she came to Wesleyan of drawing the potential out of swimmers, such as Josh Tanz ’06 or Mike Pepi ’08. I think it’s hard to try to compete with teams on a national level that can start training in September, and hard to recruit in a conference as deep as the NESCAC, but she has done a good job in building this team up to a level where it can be competitive. It will be interesting to see how the team is next year, since some unfortunate incidents have left us with some large holes, but the class that is coming in next year should do a really good job plugging those gaps and improving the team as a whole.

Q: What activities other than setting records and winning titles in the pool have kept you busy here at Wesleyan?

A: I’m a double major in economics and sociology, and I’m also trying to get the Certificate of International Relations. I play water polo in the fall for our several time Division III national champion club team, and I spend my spring recovering from swim season.

Q: You will be donning cap and gown this May. What plans do you have for the future?

A: I’m really not sure what I’m going to be doing immediately after college. Eventually I plan to return to school to get a joint JD/MBA degree, but as for what I’ll be doing for the next few years, I am open to suggestions.

Q: What else is there about Ben Byers we should know?

A: Along the same lines as my last answer, I need a job! If you know of anything, ideally with a large paycheck and minimal responsibilities I would love to hear from you.

By Brian Katten, sports information director. Photos by Katten and Mollie Parrish.