The Swimmer who Always Sprints

By Adam Gerchick '13

Alex Fraser ’11, an anthropology major and a standout on the men’s swim team, hopes to spend next year playing water polo professionally in Europe (he is a four-year member of Amherst’s club team). Men’s swimming was ranked 67th nationally after the 2006-07 season; after this past season, it was ranked fourth.

Every day during the past four January breaks, as most Amherst students were in the middle of their sleep cycles (or just going to bed), Alex Fraser ’11 was having his first breakfast of the morning. One of the most successful members of the men’s swim team, Fraser, like his teammates, has trained every Interterm. With a daily routine of three to four hours in the pool and at least an hour in the weight room, interspersed with a second breakfast and the occasional nap, the Interterm sessions were “easily the hardest practices I’ve ever had in my life,” he says. “Your entire body’s in pain. You get out of the pool and you stand in the showers, and you just physically can’t move for about five minutes.”

It’s a regime that suits Fraser well. A swimmer since age 5, he has shined at Amherst. Eight individual NESCAC and three NCAA titles in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle competitions, including one for which he set the NCAA national record in the 500-yard, attest to his extraordinary athletic capacity. He won two of those titles in his junior year, after blowing out his shoulder during a training trip to Naples, Fla., and missing nearly half of that season.

Coach Nick Nichols describes Fraser as an athlete whose drive and focus on the team’s broader success have benefited the entire program. “He’s a catalyst—he really gets the team to step up,” says Nichols. “He really shines at the end. To witness it is amazing. I don’t know if you can say he puts the team on his back, but he tries.”

Fraser and several of his teammates hold a reputation for “sprinting” their final few laps during each drill and practice, accelerating to race-worthy speeds as others slow wearily to a finish. Though other teammates may jokingly regard this as insufferable, Fraser defends himself proudly. “I’m typically in lane four with Ryan Lichtenfels [’12], Tim White [’12], Ryan Colby [’11] and Conor McAuliffe [’14], and everyone makes fun of us because we sprint everything, but if you look at that resume, we have one national champion in there [Lichtenfels], a kid that’s made nationals every year since his freshman year [White] and a freshman this year that has made nationals too [Mc­Auliffe], so I think it works.”

As a child in suburban Chicago, Fraser followed his three older sisters into competitive swimming before leaving the pool to try other sports in middle school. After a poor reintroduction in high school—“I wasn’t at all good; I was terrible, in fact”—he regained his skills, dedicating much of his senior year to aquatic training.

Despite a college athletic career full of achievements, a few moments stand out in Fraser’s mind, including his penultimate dual meet swimming for Amherst, against highly ranked MIT. “It was a dogfight,” he says. “How we showed up and defeated them, I don’t really know.” His success in that contest reflects his broader collegiate legacy: Fraser won the 100-, 200- and 500-yard freestyles at the 2011 NESCAC Championship, helping the Jeffs finish with 1,614.5 points, the most in program history at that championship.

Photo by Geoffrey Giller '10