Looking for someone to root for in 2012 to make the Olympic Team? How about Harvard’s Alex Meyer. The recent college graduate is training with passion again in 2011, inspired by his great friend Fran Crippen. Meyer was at that fateful meet where Crippen passed away. He talks about Fran’s legacy, and what his own goals are in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. So you are done with classes at Harvard?
Alex: I graduated last year. I live in Cambridge and still train with my college coach, Tim Murphy. I work out with the college team most of the time. We have the Ivy League Championships this week so the guys have been doing stuff getting ready for that for about a month or so.
2. Are you working?
Alex: No real jobs or anything like that at this point, just training.
3. What is your degree from Harvard in?
Alex: I majored in human evolutionary biology. I know that’s a (laughs) mouthful.
4. What does that mean?
Alex: It’s basically like biological anthropology. That’s what it was called before they changed the name. They restructured the biology department. So the degree is really anthropology through a biological lens. I focused on functional morphology. I basically focused on what could best be described as human biomechanics, so it was somewhat related to swimming.
5. How did you balance swimming with college?
Alex: I think people who swim as much as we do – who go practice every day, every morning – are pretty good at separating that part a lot from everything else they do. I find actually that when I take a break from swimming and I have too much time on my hands, I am much less motivated to get up and do stuff. I think it’s just something we get used to over the years.
6. Is it harder at a college like Harvard?
Alex: Actually, just because you are at Harvard doesn’t mean you are putting any more or less time into your academics than anywhere else.
7. Same thing for swimming isn’t it? I mean, the rivalries there are as intense as the PAC 10, Big 12, SEC, etc.?
Alex: They are intense, especially our meets with Princeton. They have been, historically, our main rival. We beat them at our HYP meet last month – that’s the Harvard-Yale-Princeton meet – and I would say our win was probably considered an upset. We are excited for the championship meet this week. It’s at home for us, so the team is really pumped up.
8. Losing Fran Crippen was so rough. What was it like to have those friendships with swimmers and that outreach from the swimming community?
Alex: Obviously, that was incredibly important. We all kind of new it already, but that whole experience demonstrated how supportive and loving the swimming family and community is, especially within USA Swimming. As tragic as the whole experience was, a lot of people have become closer because of it, having gone through such a horrible experience.
9. Knowing him was amazing for you, wasn’t it?
Alex: Yes. Just being able to know Fran and share stories…
10. You sort of met through your emergence nationally/internationally, didn’t you?
Alex: I met Fran, I think, for really the first time in 2009 after Nationals when I made the World Championship team. I really didn’t know him at all at that point. But since then we roomed together at basically every international competition we went to.
11. That friendship was instant, wasn’t it?
Alex: I have never gotten to be so close to a person so quickly. By October, I felt like he was one of my really best friends. We always had a real great time together. He was the kind of person you met and came running home or called your parents, “Hey, Mom and Dad, I have got the coolest new friend, his name is Fran….” And they would listen to all the fun and funny stuff we did. The one good thing … (pause) I have a lot of good videos – I have this flip-cam thing, and I documented on video all the trips we went on and what we did. It is really healing for me to go back and watch that stuff.
12. You all are honoring him again soon, aren’t you?
Alex: I am pretty excited to be a part of the race on May 7 in Fort Lauderdale, where we will have a 10k and 1-mile race in Fran’s honor, to benefit his foundation, the Fran Crippen Elevation Foundation. We’re going to try to get a lot of people to come. The 10k is supposed to be a pro race, with an elite group of only 25 to 30 competitors.
13. He always made anyone he talked to feel like they were the most important person in the world, didn’t he? I remember he came back during a race to motivate you – left his place at the lead of the pack – to cheer you on, didn’t he?
Alex: He did do that, and that is just one example. I said in an interview one time that I feel like his whole life was basically that – the most important thing to him was caring for his friends and his family and taking care of people, reaching out all the time. He always had others in mind first. What he did for me (pause)…that was special, but it was just one example. There are so many more that show how much he cared about so many people.
14. How is it training with the college team still?
Alex: Those guys on the team are some of my best friends, and I like hanging around them. It’s good to train with them, and it’s good for me to be around them. While I am not technically on the team, I still feel like I have a leadership role, especially for the new freshmen and helping them get on the right track. I was a captain last year, and I still have those tendencies – to want to be a leader in and out of the pool.
15. Do you ever feel caught between being on the team and…well, not being part of it?
Alex: It is a little bit weird sometimes, because I don’t always know where that line exists – that this is okay, but this is not okay, or what exactly is or is not appropriate. It’s usually not an issue, but sometimes I worry about intruding. I needed to go into the locker room to get ready, and they were having a team meeting, so wondered if I needed to stay outside and wait, or if it would have been okay to go in. Just things like that.
16. Any chance you will coach?
Alex: I do enjoy it. All through college I taught private lessons to kids for fundraising on the weekend. I found it really rewarding every time I made a change in someone’s stroke that helped them, or just made them more comfortable in the water. That was very exciting, and it was a challenge I enjoyed. I help out the club team volunteering. But while I enjoy it, I do not think it is something I want to make a career out of.
17. (a) What sports did you play when you were younger?
Alex: I played a lot of them. I sort of tried a lot of different sports when I was younger. I played T-ball too, but when I was 12 I stopped and focused on swimming.
17. (b) Just to go back a second – you were playing T-ball when you were 12?
Alex: Haha, no, I meant by age 12 I was focused on swimming! I pretty much stunk at everything else except swimming, and actually, I wasn’t very good at swimming for most of my life.
18. Do you enjoy being out of school to focus on training?
Alex: I do. It’s fun and it’s much more efficient training because I have more time. My practice schedule is more flexible. I can travel more for training camps or racing, so it’s a much better situation. And I get more sleep.
19. How did you reach this elite level?
Alex: So when I was growing up, like I said, I was never very good at swimming until maybe the middle of high school, about halfway through high school …. Wait. Let’s back up a little bit to when I was 12, and I went to watch the Olympic Trials in Indianapolis with my Mom and a couple of buddies. I was, as a swimmer, lousy. I had bad technique, I was kind of fat, so I just didn’t have too much going for me swimming wise. I was starting to develop my interest in distance swimming at the time, and at Trials, I watched Erik Vendt break 15 minutes in the mile and set the American record. It was incredible – the most awesome thing I had seen in my life, and that meet was the most incredible thing I had ever been to. I made it a goal to someday swim at that meet – Olympic Trials. So I went back home, and set up my goals, step by step. I had this ladder of goals next to my bed with cut times for all the meets I wanted to make, in order. At the bottom was high school state for that season, and at the very top were Olympic Trials. I slowly chipped away at those goals – slowly climbed that ladder, so to speak – through the years. When I would make a new cut I would get so motivated. I remember when I got my first Junior National cut, I could not wait to go to that meet. This process of setting goals, and achieving them one by one, was just something that really worked for me. So let me give you a feel-good story out of that. I earned my first Olympic Trials cut in 2007 at that very same pool where trials were held, at IUPUI – where it all started for me. Seven years after watching Erik Vendt, I got my Olympic Trials cut time in that pool. To that point, all my goals had been cut times. After that, I wanted to make a National Team. So I set that as my goal, and it came much sooner than I thought, making the World Championship team in the summer of 2009 in the 10k. I hadn’t even known I had made that team, because in open water, the process was a little different. I came running out of the water to my coach, “I finished fourth? What does that mean, what does it mean! Am I on the National Team?” My coach, Roy Staley, said, “Yes, you are.” It was really cool.
20. So that’s the deal, isn’t it – set your goals, big picture and small picture, and knock ‘em down one by one?
Alex: Exactly. That’s the thing with setting goals; once you accomplish one, you are hungry for more. Once I made Olympic Trials, I was worried because that was my top goal, and I had achieved it. But then, I got to that meet, and a bunch of goals were right out in front of me. I knew what was next – National Team. Any good athlete will tell you that you never settle for where you are at, or rest on your laurels. You look ahead, re-evaluate, and push forward to the next goal.