A Philosophy Of Swimming: An Interview With Senior Bill Bradley Before SUNYAC Championships

Senior Bill Bradley (photo by Ron Szot)

A collegiate swimmer swims for a reason: He may want to win a race, break a record, or simply improve. Simultaneously–and paradoxically–he swims for no reason at all: He does it because he can, and because he enjoys it.

Senior Bill Bradley is embracing the tension between reasons this weekend in his final SUNYAC Championship meet:

“I felt like I wasn’t getting to where I wanted to be quickly enough (last year). This year I tried to relax and realize that I’m here because I enjoy it. If I could swim again next year I would, which surprises me because there are plenty of athletes out there who want to quit their sports right now.”

Our conversation on Tuesday covered Bradley’s goals, reasons, and his philosophy of swimming:

Jon-Ryan Maloney: What’s on your mind going into your final SUNYAC Championship?

Bill Bradley: I’m excited. I’m not nervous like I have been in the past. All season long my mindset has been a lot more relaxed, whereas before I’d been desperate to get the times I wanted, win events, and break records.

Maloney: Why is that?

Bradley: I’m not sure, but I’m really excited. Based on my past performances, and how I’m feeling in general, I’ve seen more evidence that I might accomplish the goals I’ve been wanting since my sophomore year.

Maloney: What are those goals?

Bradley: Frankly, I want to come away from SUNYAC’s with a couple records. I’d like both butterfly records.

Maloney: How much time do you need to drop for those records?

Bradley: Two seconds. I was 53.00 at the senior meet and I’ve never swam that fast before in a Speedo. I only swam slightly faster than that at the Invite. I was faster at the Invite this year than I was at SUNYAC’s last year. Overall I feel like I’ve been swimming a lot better this year. For all I know I won’t drop time, but I get the idea that I will. I feel really good at practice, I felt really good on the training trip, and I’ve had good performances in the dual meets.

Maloney: Is there anything in particular you can point to this year that was different?

Bradley: My mindset. I felt really frustrated last year: “I’m a junior now, I should be swimming well at this point.” There were plenty of swimmers across the conference winning events as juniors, sophomores, and freshmen. I felt like I wasn’t getting to where I wanted to be quickly enough. This year I tried to relax and realize that I’m here because I enjoy it. If I could swim again next year I would, which surprises me because there are plenty of athletes out there who want to quit their sports right now. I’ve been enjoying swimming a lot this year, and yes, it helps that I’ve been doing well. If I wasn’t then I would probably find myself frustrated again. Even so, I don’t work myself up about it if I don’t swim as well as I want to. A few weeks ago at Allegheny I swam a 2:07. That was one of my slowest swims, but I wasn’t worried about it. It’s such a funny sport because we train to swim well at maybe two meets out of the year. The rest of it doesn’t matter so much.

Maloney: What’s enjoyable about swimming? It often seems so miserable.

Bradley: I’ve heard that a lot. I’ve heard it from you too, that it takes a special person to be a swimmer. It’s such a strange sport: You’ve got your head in the water staring at a black line on the bottom of the pool, going back and forth for two hours at a time. I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s this feeling of runner’s high when you swim well. It’s really hard to put my finger on it, but it’s a feeling of accomplishment that you don’t get in other pursuits.

Maloney: I ask because swimmers get motivated to accomplish a certain goal, but you’re not necessarily motivated in that way.

Bradley: That’s the thing: If I miss the records it’s not the end of the world. I really want to do it, and I think I’ll place well in all my events, but as much as I’d love to come away from this meet with a few medals I don’t have much control over that. I’m not going to kick myself because some kids from Geneseo swam a second or two faster than me. And they’re all going through the same thing, swimming up to 10,000 yards per day for the last year. Sure, maybe there are a few fluke swimmers who don’t try as hard and still swim fast, but everyone is generally going through the same thing. Arron Carlson (Fredonia Diving alum, ’17) told me one time that you can’t hate the people you’re competing against because you know what they’re going through. It’s the same thing with me. I always tell the swimmers to either side of me, “Hey, have a nice race.” I do want them to have a good swim because I’m not rooting for people to fail. I want to swim faster than them, but I still want them to do well.

Maloney: I think that’s very unique to you; there aren’t a lot of people like that. I’m very impressed with you: there was one year at SUNYAC’s when you turned around and yelled at a few of your teammates because they weren’t cheering for someone who was swimming. This year in Florida I remember you gave up your seat in the van to a freshman who really wanted it.

Bradley: You know, as far as sports are concerned I feel like people easily lose sight of what’s important. This is Division III swimming–nobody’s getting a scholarship. I met a kid over winter break who swims for East Michigan State. He told me that if he weren’t getting scholarship money he wouldn’t be swimming in college. That’s crazy to me, to go through all that without wanting something out of it besides money. A lot of people get mad with swimmers who quit the team, but I don’t see the point. Some people clearly don’t care about swimming. They don’t enjoy it, so they quit.

Maloney: I imagine it’s sad if you’re a Division I swimmer and you don’t feel like you have the option to quit.

Bradley: Yes. I don’t understand why people stick around if they’re not going to put everything into it. For me, I’m not going to be upset if I don’t go as fast as I want to. But that’s the thing: I want to go fast. I want to come away feeling good about what I did. Obviously the memories are good, and I’ve made some of my best friends being a part of this team, but I want to get something out of the sport itself. If I just wanted friends I could be in a fraternity or a club.

Maloney: Which some athletes do when they quit.

Bradley: Because they want that social group. It seems to me like a sorority or fraternity is a social group for the sake of a social group, whereas a sport or a club has a purpose for existing. They bring together people who are interested in that common purpose. With a fraternity or a sorority–and I know I’m probably being reductive–they don’t have that unique theme or interest. They’re not all athletes in a certain sport; they’re people who want to meet other people. I don’t want to sound like I’m criticizing fraternities, but I feel like anything I could get out of a fraternity I’m already getting out of swimming– plus we have a purpose. There are plenty of athletes who are only interested in the social aspect. They want to be a part of the team without having to do any of the work. Sometimes people lose sight of the sport.

Maloney: How do you think about graduating, and losing the sport?

Bradley: As far as swimming is concerned, I want to go out gracefully. I want to have a good SUNYAC meet, but I think I’ll be happy with it whichever way it goes. I feel like this season has given me a lot of closure already because I’ve been in love with the sport all season long. I’ve really loved every minute of it. Swim practice is the best part of my day.

Maloney: I imagine if you enjoy it you’re going to swim well too.

Bradley: That’s a big part of it. Justin Hawes–he was on the team my freshman year–told me that you should go into every race with a smile on your face. I try to remember that and think that way. There are plenty of times I’ve been nervous, but waiting 45 minutes for the 200 fly to start is a much different feeling than stepping up to the block. Once I’m behind the block I always feel excited. The nervousness is gone and I’m standing back there with a smile on my face.

Maloney: What’s the most important thing you’ve done to improve over the course of four years?

Bradley: It’s not so much a thing as it is a philosophy of swimming: Put in the work. I go into practice every day wanting to put in the work. Again, there are plenty of people who don’t want to do that. They show up to practice just wanting to be done, and that’s not a way to improve. You need to show up every day to practice and give it your all. You can’t just swim through it and expect to get something out of it. It’s a tired cliche: “It’s necessary, but not quite sufficient, to put in a lot of hard work.”

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