National Team

20 Question Tuesday: Alex Meyer


Alex Meyer (large)

By Bob Schaller//Correspondent

A Day in the Life of Alex Meyer, a video about the open water Olympian done with sponsor Vasa, is racking up the views on SwimSwam and on YouTube touches on all aspects of Meyer’s life, and training, along with a brief mention of the work he does with his sponsors and how that fits into the program. The Harvard alum, who was 10th in London despite a shoulder injury suffered in the run-up to the Games, also took fourth in the 25K at 2013 Worlds in Barcelona, and he hopes for more in the future, as he explains in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.


1. Let’s hit the video first, how did that come to be?
It was Vasa’s idea that we started talking about back in September or October. I think as the project went along, it became a much greater scope and required more involvement as we went along. It turned out for the better because of the extra thought.


2. So the seven-minute video had a lot more go into it than that?
(Laughs) It took a lot longer than anticipated. But it was well worth it. And I do use Vasa’s trainer and equipment, so it was a great fit.


3. The process overall, how do you rate it?
It’s pretty cool. I have gotten to know Rob Sleamaker, the founder and CEO of Vasa. He’s been a good mentor for me, helping me figure things out. He gave me his perspective on how to start a business, what it means to be a success, starting small but having a plan – he has had a lot of valuable advice, and I am very grateful.


4. What did the process itself teach you?
Through the process of making this video, I have learned a lot about how to market and promote myself – all the things I can do, to do it better, what sponsors are looking for in a relationship with the athlete, what is the best way to go about pursuing those...and Vasa put a lot of time and quite a bit of resources into the project, too.


5. I love the Day in the Life format, though I shuddered at the start when you were on the bike in the dark heading to practice – was that a goal, to have it be a genuine representation of a day in your life?
Yes, exactly. The great thing is, it did not come out with the intent of looking like an ad for Vasa. You can kind of tell they had something to do with it, but from the get go Rob was saying, “I don’t want this to be about Vasa, we want it to be about you. If we do that well, other things will work out.” It’s cool he took an approach like that.


6. I think, besides seeing that killer breakfast you cooked up, that it really showed ACTUAL events from your day, and maybe that’s what made it unique and why it appeals to so many viewers?
I think a lot of athletes have done them and I have watched a bunch of them. I feel like there is a lot about me that is not known, that I still have a story to tell. I want people to know me. And this was a vehicle for that transfer of information. A lot of people, especially because of the event I swim, even people on the National Team ask me, “how do you train, where do you train? Do you swim in open water all the time, or in the pool?” So a lot of my fellow athletes don’t understand what my day is like because my day is different from theirs. I wanted to tell my story, along with who I am and what I stand for.


7. I think I know this one, but what is it that you stand for?
Passionate inspiration and safety, making sure the sport is safe. Doing what you love, and pursuing your dream. That is basically my story.


8. What a crazy road for you from Harvard until now?
I mean, yeah, I certainly have had an interesting path, and I am very grateful for it. I think often the path to success is not very linear. There are lots of twists and turns along the way.


9. You have had so many twists and turns, tragedy and victory, falling off the bike before training, gutting out a top 10 at the Olympics – more than your share?
I have certainly taken a few twists and turns! But at every turn, I have learned a lot about myself; how to be a better athlete, how to be a better person, what’s most important in life. I think pretty much every athlete – most of the swimmers you have talked to – will tell you that their sport is a great lens through which to view life, sort of a proxy for life. There’s a lot that can be taken away – a lot of lessons from our sport that can be translated to real life, and transplanted in a different situation. When it is all said and done with our careers and we retire from the sport, we start new lives in the working world. That brings a lot of new challenges – which can be daunting – but having experienced so much as athletes, we can relate it to the challenges we will have the rest of our lives. I love what I do. I always want to love what I do, or I will choose another challenge.


10. Going to Harvard, how much did that help you think your way through all the challenges and opportunities that you have faced certainly getting into the sport, the tragedy and challenges along the way, and then winning medals, and moving forward?
Critical-thinking is kind of the foundation of higher education in general, so it’s not just Harvard. It’s actually kind of ironic, because the longer time passes from when I graduated from Harvard – almost four years now – the more I realize what an incredible place it really is. I honestly feel like, having taken a step back a little bit, I have a little clearer view of the big picture of what the university really offers.


11. Wasn’t like you didn’t stay busy though, but it’s good to experience it more now, right?
There is so much that goes on around here that I didn’t realize because I was so pigeon-holed in my routine of going to class, practice, sleep, and just staying in a routine. While I was in school, I didn’t take as much advantage of the opportunities as I could have – as I wish I had done. But now, having been out of it a few years, I definitely have a much broader perspective. My girlfriend Caroline is an admissions officer and she knows way more than I do about what goes on around here, so I am more aware because she fills me in on what’s going on, the initiatives and the opportunities we have in the community here.


12. You and I talk so often, but now we turn the page to the second half of the quad, and it seems like this is the first time in forever we have talked – how is that possible?
Especially now that the winter Olympics are over, it’s crazy how everything just switches to all being about Rio right now. Even for me, that’s a hefty realization, that we’re halfway there pretty much, from London. Two years isn’t a whole lot of time.


13. So we both had our cycling foibles, but I notice in the video you still ride – are you cautious now?
I definitely would say I am more careful. I wear a helmet all the time, whereas before (the pre-London crash) I wore it some of the time. I am not one to really overreact and overcompensate from things that happen to me in life, in general. I still ride my bike; I haven’t recently because it is so cold outside. But I like riding my bike.


14. After Worlds you looked a little thin, but you’re back to your regular weight and look a bit stronger even – accurate?
Yes, I do feel better. I don’t think I have really put on any weight. I know I was pretty skinny in Barcelona. When I got home I stepped on the scale and was freaked out by how little I weighed. But I have been around 165 the last few years.


15. You seem to, after having to deal with the whole year leading up to the Olympics of already having your place and giving all the interviews – which you did with great poise and dignity – and the crash, to have come back stronger, did that experience help you move forward?
It did. I do feel good about it. I feel like I have a lot more potential though. Everybody’s confidence goes up and down over time. But I feel like I am in a pretty good spot right now. This time of year is pretty hard because the Harvard guys have the team thing and I am doing stuff by myself. But I had a pretty good race back in January; my result wasn’t that great but I felt really good and I was in good shape, so I am in better shape than I was last year. That bodes well for Nationals coming up and Pan Pacs.


16. I can’t stop thinking about Fran whenever we talk. I know his memory will live forever, but as more time passes since his death, just like anything else, other things happen, but he does live on in all of you he shaped so significantly?
Yes, and I do think about him all the time. I just saw his parents and his sisters Claire and Teresa at a friend’s wedding. I am still involved with the (Elevation) foundation, and I still have pictures of him all over the place. Obviously, it’s not as fresh or visceral or as traumatic as it was at first. I haven’t thought about the fact that I might go a day (pause)… where I don’t think about…it’s hard to talk about it. I feel bad when I don’t think about him enough. But it’s completely natural. Things happen in life, and you move on and have more life experiences, and more things that happen to you, but his memory will never be covered up. He’ll always be part of who I am.


17. So when does a real man head back to the lake in New England to resume non-pool training?
I am trying to remember what we’ve done in the past years. I think it is May. It’s still pretty cold in May, but if you go on a sunny day and you get out there, it’s not that bad. If it’s really cold I don’t want to go by myself, I want to have someone with me.


18. So that’ll be enough long course in the pool for a while?
Actually, it’s been short course, which is why things are kind of frustrating right now. Honestly, I have not changed the routine before. I am pretty much sticking to what works.


19. Haley Anderson, Ashley Twichell, Emily Brunemann – the women’s open water is amazing in this country, how much pride do you take in what those women are doing?
They are great. It’s been amazing to see them have this success after they had challenges. Emily came back really strong after not making the National Team, which cut some of her funding but yet she got money together on her own and went and won the whole thing at (World Cup) which is amazing! Ashley didn’t make it to London and then Barcelona, but was so close, and then she comes back and is just doing great. And now Haley is a post-grad so she’ll have some more flexibility in her schedule and I’m sure she’ll be even better because of that. They are all so inspiring.


20. You have some good competition on the men’s side, but there isn’t that collection of guys like there is that collection of women – does that make it harder for you?
I think that at times it’s a little lonely, and maybe being the “only guy” in this kind of situation and being where I am. We want to be the best National Team that we can. We want to get more guys going at it here. But I embrace what this sport has given me and all the opportunities. I hope that I am able to promote the sport and improve the state of open water swimming in the United States; I know there have been times where I have been frustrated with things and haven’t been as tactful as I should have been or productive in the way I suggest something, but at the end of the day I do have a good relationship with USA Swimming – I am heard by them and they have me give input on crucial issues. That makes me happy, to feel like I am making a difference. That is important to me. As far as the thing with having guy teammates (pause)…I remember one time when I was in Hong Kong for a World Cup in 2010, and Fran and I were talking after practice. He was talking about after the 2012 Olympic Games, how he was probably going to retire. I said, “That’s no good – what am I going to do when you retire? Who will I hang out with?” He smiled like he always did and said, “Someone will come along, just like you came along for me.”

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