Alex M. Meyer ’10, once a co-captain of the Harvard men’s swimming and diving team, won the 25 kilometer open water swim in the 2010 World Championships. When he placed fourth in the men’s 10k open water swim at the World Championships this July, he became the first U.S. athlete to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. His interview has been edited for concision.
FM: How did going to an academically oriented school like Harvard affect your career as a professional athlete?
When I was still looking at schools, it was important for me to go to a good academic institution. I was good enough to get recruited, but the way I saw it, my swim career was going to be over when I graduated from college. I was just going to have a degree in my hand and go into the working world and do what most people do. But my coach Tim Murphy and I have always had a great relationship, and he’s really helped me reach my potential. If I swam for any other program, I don’t know if things would have ended up this way.
FM: So when did you realize that your goals had changed?
The summer after my junior year, swimming was winding down; I’d planned to go to a Harvard Summer School program. But I somehow made the national team to go swim the World Championships in the 25k. It was the first 10k I’d ever done and I made the national team—I thought, what would happen if I really practiced this?
FM: What’s your favorite part of being an open water swimmer?
The longest event in the pool is a mile. It takes 15 minutes and you’re done, but I felt like I was just getting started after 15 minutes. But I also always secretly wished I played a contact sport, and it’s pretty physical. I love to race, and in open water it doesn’t matter how long it takes, it doesn’t matter exactly how far it is—the first one who gets to the finish line wins.
FM: What are your goals for the Olympics?
One of the cool things about open water is that it’s much more volatile in that it could go a lot of different ways. I definitely feel like I have a chance to win, but there’s a handful of people that have that chance. And obviously just representing the U.S. is an honor in itself.