Conquering the Open Water

Alex Meyer ’10 swims for the US and for a lost friend

Alex Meyer
Bethina Liu

At the start of the open water 10k, dozens of participants take off on a course with no lanes to limit accidental (and deliberate) contact in water that can range from dangerously cold to dangerously hot.

To be successful, a racer has to be both responsible and completely irresponsible. He has to pace himself so as not to run out of steam, but then push his body to an unimaginable extreme.  To succeed, a swimmer also needs the help of others, who must keep a good pace and allow him to draft behind them, decreasing the amount of energy needed to propel oneself through the turbulent water.

And even if a racer can do all of that, adversity is still inevitable. Above all, just keep swimming. It is a torturous race—and that makes it the perfect race for Alex Meyer ’10.

With its continuous challenges and demand for persistence, the race is, in many ways, reflective of what Meyer has gone through to reach the 2012 Olympics.


Meyer grew up in a household with a former diver for a father and a former swimmer who taught swimming at a local YMCA as a mother. By the age of seven, Meyer was swimming competitively, but he showed few signs of future Olympic-level success.

“Alex was never the superstar,” Shawn Meyer, his mother, said. “I would describe Alex’s ascent into the higher levels of swimming as slow and steady.”

Although he wasn’t the fastest in the pool, Meyer’s mom said he loved the sport from the very beginning.

“We tried to expose him to other sports but he just never seemed to really take to any of the other sports,” Shawn Meyer said. “I think he just really loved swimming.”

Meyer may have started slow, but by the time he was a teenager, he was swimming at an elite level. In high school, he was an four-time All-American and a New York State Champion in the 500-meter freestyle in his last two years.

Those performances set Meyer up to choose between a number of schools vying for his enrollment. He focused his attention on top academic schools.

“He knew the importance of a strong academic focus because swimming wasn’t go to last forever,” Shawn Meyer said. “The important thing was to leverage his swimming ability into going to the best school he could.”

Eventually, Meyer settled on Harvard, but not just because of the academic opportunities it presented.

“Sam Wollner [’08 ]was one of the defining reasons that Alex knew he could go to Harvard,” Shawn Meyer said of Harvard swimming’s former co-captain. “Alex knew that this was somebody that he could train with and continue to get better.”

Shawn Meyer also said that swimming coach Tim Murphy was a big reason that Meyer eventually enrolled at Harvard.