The Crimson swimming team's hopes for an Eastern Seaboard title brightened considerably yesterday when sophomore superstar Julian Mack emerged from retirement and reported to practice at Blodgett Pool.
The Glencoe, Ill. native, who was named to the NCAA All-American squad for his contribution on Harvard's 11th-place finishing 800-yd. freestyle relay a year ago, cited his close friendship with team members as his reason for returning, explaining that he had "thought about it over vacation and just thought it would be fun" to rejoin the team.
For a star-studded squad rebounding from two recent mediocre dual meet performances and attempting to build up momentum for next month's showdown against Princeton, the timing of Mack's return could not have been better.
"This is the lift we needed," co-captain Eric Seder said yesterday. "We're on our way now."
"This is no telling how long it will take "the Brickhouse," as his teammates affectionately refer to him, to train his way into last season's form, but his mere presence in practice has already affected a notable uplifting of team morale.
"Just having Julian around is going to make a big difference on this team's attitude," head coach Joe Bernal noted, barely able to subdue the grin breaking out across his face. "His positive attitude is contagious, and I don't need to tell you what he can do for us in the pool."
Mack's swimming credentials are impeccable. The 6-ft., 4-in., 205-lb. former high school All-American had the misfortune last season of getting lost from the public's eye in the shadow of classmate Bobby Hackett. His value to the team showed through clearly in the Eastern Championships though, where he placed in three individual events and swam on all three of Harvard's second place relays.
When he left the team this fall during the season's first week, Mack's departure was carried out with the dignity and grace that his friends have come to expect of him. He announced at a team gathering that he was leaving because he "had other things to check out," activities that the rigid schedule of a competitive swimmer doesn't allow time for.
Searching for a volunteer program where he could contribute something to someone less fortunate than himself, Julian discovered the Shelter program at the Boston City Hospital.
There he works, in conjunction with a team of psychologists, in a "big brother" type program with a fatherless nine-year-old from the Martha Eliot Housing Project in Jamaica Plains.
"The first time we walked out of his home together, the neighborhood kids pelted us with rocks," Mack recounts. Providing some paternal stability in the youth's life is Julian's goal. "It's just the kind of thing I wanted to get into."
"The door to return through," according to team co-captain Malcolm Cooper, "has always been left open. We all wanted him to come back," says Cooper, "but no one wanted to pressure him into returning. It was his decision."
Mack will continue with the Shelter program, but now feels that he can swim, work, and still keep up with his academic commitments.
Now, about that meet in New Jersey on February 3rd...
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