In second semester of 1957, two things were on my mind. First, I had to produce my honors thesis in Am Studs and second, I had to prepare for the NCAA Swimming Championships at the U . North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I was assigned to the great Henry Steele Commager just as he was assigned to guide me on my way. We had a good relationship, played ping pong when we should have been slaving away and seemed to enjoy one another. I never got the feeling that he was really interested in my thesis but tolerated me in good spirit. We always met at his house where in addition to playing ping pong he served refreshments. Despite his passing interest in my work (my perception) I worked diligently to produce a decent paper.
At the same time I was training really hard for the Nationals, three workouts a day consisting of distance in the mornings, repeats in the afternoon and sprints in the evenings. Hank Dunbar had me pretty well worked up about the meet so I put a lot of effort into my swimming. By the time I got to the library to tend my homework, I was pretty well shot. And I still remember aura around the lights from my chlorine reddened eyes. No goggles in those days. Anyway, this is how my life was at that time, mentally and physically weary but happy as the proverbial clam.
Shortly before I was to head to NC, le professeur summoned me to his quarters for an update on my progress with Huey and Franklin. As he welcomed me he declared unceremoniously that I looked pale and wan and that I should take some time out to get some exercise!!!! There had been a fair amount of publicity about the team's trip to Chapel Hill and I'm pretty sure most people knew about it and that I was involved. My response was merely that I was getting plenty of exercise and the session turned to the matters at hand. Afterwards, I thought to myself that HSC really was the absent minded professor so wrapped up in his work that he missed a bit of what was going on around him. But I certainly bore no grudges nor was I offended - I thought the whole episode was really funny and enjoyed telling people about it. I guess then that I must take responsibility for the "legend" though I am surprised that it has persisted through all these years.
As a footnote you might be interested in knowing that the Amherst team at the nationals in 1957 beat the likes of Army, Illinois, Wisconsin, California, Purdue, Texas and Stanford and came close to SMU , Northwestern and Iowa! Not bad for the little old college whose swimmers trained in the raw, wore no goggles and focused mostly on academics.
(Provided with permission from an email exchange with Hugh Hawkins.)