A quick glance at the record sheet for the Harvard women's swim team reveals one striking feat. When it comes to the backstroke and the Individual Medley, Harvard has only one name: Laurie Downey.
Downey holds all team records for those two events, with the top time in the 50, 100, and 200-yd, back, and the 100, 200, and 400-yd. Medley. She also throws in the 500-yd. freestyle record for good measure.
After a year off from Harvard to get away and "get some time to myself," as she says, Downey has returned to the IAB and is working her way back into the sport.
At first glance, the diminutive, 5-ft. swimmer does not seem like the awesome figure she can be in the water; but Crimson Coach Stephanie Walsh says. "Her size does not tell the story. She's really tough. In competition...wow, she's just great."
And Downey is glad to be back with a team; as glad as Walsh is to have her back. "I feel a little creaky though, says the Armonk, N.Y. resident. "I'm afraid of what my first times will be, but it's really nice to have the structure back."
Last year, while out of school, Downey says she did not swim that often, and fell out of shape after the lay-off.
"It's really hard to do workouts on your own," she says. "But coming back is great, especially since we have so much more of a team." When Downey left after the 1975-76 season, Walsh had just finished her rookie year as Harvard coach, and her team lacked depth and experience.
"Steffi hadn't gotten the chance to recruit and build then," explains the 21-year old Psychology major. "But now, you can see how young the team is and how much more experienced they are. They're also much more serious about it than when I was here as a sophomore."
Experience and seriousness are two of Downey's strongest assets. She has been swimming year-round for the last twelve years, and enjoyed a successful career with the White Plains Middies, a Westchester swim team. At age 14, she won the individual high-point award in Westchester, and soon after received the high-point award at the YWCA Nationals, swimming for the Middies.
Downey also qualified for the AAU Nationals in Texas in 1974, and in her sophomore year at Harvard, she swam to two second-and two third-place finishes in the Eastern Championships,
But the year off brings Downey back with a new perspective on her sport.
"I'm going at it in a little more relaxed way," she says. "I did miss it while I was away, though. It's a luxury in a way to have a team to swim with."
Downey will add a tremendous amount of speed and an experienced point of view to the Harvard team this year. Downey is one of the team's elder statesmen, but she says she does not feel like the "senior advisor."
"I almost felt like I had more responsibility two years ago when there wasn't much of a team," she says. "I had much more experience than anyone else then."
Now she's one of many experienced swimmers, but you can be sure she won't be hidden among the crowd. Downey is a talented athlete, and her return to he Harvard team is a welcome one.
As her coach says, "She's just a really exciting swimmer."