Being an Olympic athlete comes with its perks, from a two-week stay in Olympic Village to future commercial sponsorships. But Alex Meyer ’10 got a bonus one week before representing the US in the 10k open swimming race next week in England.
Thursday night at Stone Hearth Pizza in Allston, just blocks from where he competed as a Harvard student, Meyer received some free pizza and endless well wishes from dozens of young swimmers.
The Olympic send-off was hosted by Crimson Aquatics, an elite swimming club based at Harvard University and directed by Harvard swimming coach Tim Murphy, who is also the Team USA open water swimming coach for the 2012 Olympics.
When Meyer entered the restaurant, he was surprised by what he saw. The windows lining the restaurant were covered with inspirational posters for Meyer and rows of eager swimmers greeted him wearing customized shirts bearing Meyer’s name as well as small flags and patriotic accessories.
“I didn’t really know that they were going to do this,” Meyer said. “It was fun to hang out with these kids.”
Meyer wasn’t the only one benefiting from the celebration. In addition to autographs, children in attendance ranging from ages seven to 18 got to talk, meet, and learn from an elite athlete.
“What the kids get out of this is being able to create a vision of themselves in his position,” Crimson Aquatics coach Kyle Schack said. “Every one of these kids is going to have that image of themselves doing that someday...and that is the most important thing if anyone is going to accomplish anything—you’ve got to be able to envision it first.”
Three-time Olympian Adriana Schack agreed that the short meeting could have big dividends for the children in attendance.
“If you are an eight-year-old, you say, ‘That’s cool, I want to do that,’” Schack said. “That’s how it starts. Being in touch with Alex is going to give them a chance to dream.”
Even for kids not chasing Olympic dreams, one parent thought Meyer is still a great role model.
“Very few people make the Olympics, and he’s a personable, normal guy that just eats up the kids,” said Maura Conolly, mother two Crimson Aquatics swimmers. “He’s a great role model. He knows how to really work hard, he’s clearly intelligent, he went to Harvard, and yet he’s humble and accepting of everybody.”
In the end, the event was for Meyer, and Kyle Schack said it could help him in the race next week.
“Tonight is really great because it brings Alex back to square one with the little kids where he started and he can appreciate being in the moment,” Schack said. “In order for him to perform his best on August 10, he is going to have to stay in that moment.”
—Staff writer Jacob D. H. Feldman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.