This past Sunday, Liam Fitzstevens ’17 of the men’s swim team returned home from nationals, where he competed in three events three days in a row and returned home with two school records. Fitzstevens holds an incredible eight school records total after setting the 100-yard backstroke and 400-yard individual medley school records during his time in Texas.
Fitzstevens’ first event was the 400-meter individual medley, which he competed in on the first day of his nationals debut on Thursday. “I felt really good while swimming,” he said. “I took out the first 100 fly pretty fast.” By the end of the 400 meters, Fitzstevens had dropped his own personal record by a whopping 16 seconds and beat the previous school record.
“My goal was to get at least a 4.07 and beat a record from last year and I did it! I went a 4.05 and that was really awesome. I was so happy,” Fitzstevens said.
His next event was the 100 backstroke, in which he increased his time by just a few tenths of a second from his conference performance. “I was a little disappointed,” he said. “Not necessarily with my time, but I just felt kind of off, to be honest. I couldn’t get in a groove in my stroke and it felt like I was pulling a lot of air.”
The next morning, Fitzstevens prepared for the 200 backstroke — his last event at nationals. “I felt really strong and my stroke felt great as I was swimming,” he commented.
Although taking it a bit slower in the first 100 than his conference time, Fitzstevens made up for it in the remaining 100 yards and felt like he had made up for lost time by the end of the race. “The moment I finished, I knew I went fast. But I looked up at the clock and saw I went exactly the same time,” he laughed. “I wasn’t really disappointed and I wasn’t elated either. I mostly just felt happy because it felt so good to be swimming the event.”
“When he told me he had a good chance for nationals, my heart was filled with so many emotions,” friend Ella Chan ’17 explained. “I was so happy for him because I know how much work he had put into swimming and it felt like everything had paid off.”
Although his times were unable to qualify him to move on to finals, Fitzstevens enjoyed every second of having the chance to swim against and watch the best swimmers from all over the country. “It was kind of tough to allocate enough time for warm-downs because I was so excited to watch all the races,” he said. “The swimming there was just so unreal. Everyone was so fast that it was hard to divert my eyes away from them.”
After coming back to Swarthmore, Fitzstevens was congratulated by many of his friends and teammates for his commendable performance at nationals and reminded him of his main motivators that helped him get to the level of swimming he is at today. “I came out of nationals with such a huge appreciation of all that the team means to me,” he said. “Each member of the team plays such an important part in keeping us together and staying positive.”
Both the men’s and women’s swim teams have an incredible bond and a reliable support structure to show it. Aside from relying on good luck texts while he was in Texas, Fitzstevens’ motivation is often found directly in the pool with his other teammates. Teammate Andrew Steele ’17 serves as one of his closest friends in and out of the pool and played a key role in propelling Fitzstevens to nationals.
“Steele is probably my biggest motivator,” Fitzstevens said. “He pushes me whenever practice gets hard and inspires me to work harder every day in practice. If I show up to the pool and I had a really rough day, Andrew cheers me up and gets me going. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
The respect felt between the two friends is definitely mutual, as Steele has been proud of Fitzstevens’ performance throughout the season. Especially in their meet against #19 ranked Gettysburg College back in January. “Gettysburg College has dominated men’s swimming in the conference for the past decade and I was really proud of how [Fitzstevens] didn’t back down against the competition,” he explained.
The meet marked Fitzstevens’ first win against one of his biggest rivals, Mike Harmon ’15 from Gettysburg’s men’s swim team. Losing to Mike Harmon and finishing in second in the 200 backstroke last season, Fitzstevens aimed to change the game and win the event this season. “Whenever I would start slacking off in practice Steele would say, ‘Yo, Liam. Mike Harmon.’ And it would just get me so riled up and so incredibly motivated,” Fitzstevens said. And, with the help of Steele, Fitzstevens beat Harmon in the 200 backstroke this season.
Upon completing his successful season, Fitzstevens looked back on his time with the team and mentioned that one of his favorite moments was producing the Swat Swim 2015 Training Trip Film currently uploaded on Youtube with almost 5,000 views. “Our cameraman, Jack O’Connor ’17 and editing team of Henry Wilson ’18, Lanson Tang ’18 and Steele was a blast to work with,” he said.
The neuroscience major is planning to intern at the Connecticut Human Milk Research Center, where he will help develop specialized care for premature newborns. A green advisor, founder of the water polo club and a TOPS Soccer member, Fitzstevens hopes to continue his involvement on-campus by becoming an RA next year.
Looking ahead to next season, Fitzstevens aims to outdo this season’s performance and earn the title of All-American. “Thinking about how I want the next championship meet motivates me,” he explained. “Every day until then, I’ll be thinking about how my actions are affecting whether or not I’ll be able to earn that title.”