Thomas Peterson '92

Swimming & Diving - Hall of Fame Class of 2009

Harvard AthleticAchievements

In a sport that measures success in fractions of a second, Thomas Peterson often found himself outpacing the rest of the field by multiple seconds at a time.  Tom became a major force in the Eastern Intercollegiate Swimming League (EISL) during his junior and senior seasons. In 1991 and 1992, Tom received the “Moriarty Trophy” as the individual high point scorer of the EISL Championships after winning the 500 yard freestyle, the 400 yard individual medley, and the 200 yard backstroke. Additionally as a senior, Tom was honored as an All America at the NCAA Championships twice: once for finishing 3rd in the 400 yard individual medley and once for finishing 6th in the 200 backstroke. 

Perhaps most impressive is the fact that Tom’s times have stood the test of time. A former three-time EISL meet record holder and two-time Harvard school record holder, Tom’s times the 400 yard individual medley and the 200 backstroke events still rank him among the top three fastest swimmers in Harvard’s history. 

Remembering Harvard Athletics

I would like to thank the Harvard Varsity Club and the Selection Committee.  It is truly an honor to be recognized along side such incredible athletes this year and those athletes who have come before us.

Swimmers are a different breed.  Many of you who know swimmers or know of them will probably not debate me on this point.  And yes, you could say that this is because we are often a bit socially awkward, and actually choose to spend 20 hours a week under water, in isolation, with the exception of 3 second breaks where you are carrying on a conversation in bits and pieces. 

We sweat chlorine; it actually comes out of our pours; our hair is so brittle it breaks when we take our shirts on and off; we put our bodies through excruciating things twice a day, one of which times is disturbingly early.  We can spot a fellow swimmer from 10 yards out because the sport actually transforms our bodies to become more efficient in the water - well, that and we also tend to be a bit awkward on land.  We can sleep standing up, are known to take naps several times a day and we don’t really have an “off-season”.  We talk about things like negative splits, bouys and paddles, conseys and finals, going to “The Show”, anchor legs, and 4, 6 and 8 beat kicks.  And, while many non-swimmers know that we shave our bodies on a regular basis, we also occasionally wear panty hose in the pool.  We are not normal.

I have been asked so many times while I was swimming, why I did it?  Why did I spend 11 months a year doing 10 practices a week for 25-30 hours of training time, covering 8-10 miles a day and 50 miles a week in the water, not to mention the time spent in drives or walks to and from practice?  The answer has always been the same.  It is who I am and it is in my blood.  There is pure joy in being able to master a substance that is so foreign to others.  There is elegance and simplicity and knowing that whether you beat your best time, and whether you win a race comes down only to you and how hard you’ve trained, how hard you wanted it.  When you are no longer swimming, you realize how illusive defining victory can be in other venues and how diffused the outcome can be from your effort.  The work world just doesn’t come with a pace clock, or a scoreboard or electronic touchpads.

Swimming is mostly, and is at its core, an individual sport.  What is so incredible about Harvard Swimming is that it transforms a bunch of individuals competing (often against each other, at times on relays with each other) into a brotherhood that transcends generations.  I have an affinity and a kinship with those Harvard Swimmers who came before me, and those who came after.  I feel that I know exactly what they are experiencing, the nature of their friendships and the quality of their experience.  I know that they, like I, have bonds with their teammates that will last a lifetime. 

Part of the reason behind the closeness of these bonds is that which happens when any group goes through a difficult challenge together.  It is akin to the Marine’s emerging from Paris Island, the shared experience of putting your body through incredible challenge and emerging stronger, more confident and with the knowledge that your closest friends were there with you.

But this doesn’t fully capture the full essence of the brotherhood that is Harvard Swimming.  The rest of it exists because of the constancy and tradition across the past 80 years.  Regardless of the year, the coach we swam under, or whether we had suits that cover much of our body, or very little of it; we share a common identity.  We hate Princeton Swimming (though while not necessarily hating all Princeton swimmers), we can do the Hipza in our sleep, are giddy with the energy from our taper at Easterns, want desperately to go to “The Show”, would like to avoid but prove ourselves as Ironman, hate and love the trudge across the bridge in freezing cold at ungodly hours, and take trips to sunny places in the winter only to spend 6 hours a day in the water. 

But mostly, we love to wear Crimson and we love knowing that we can compete at any level, while representing the greatest University in the world.  Go Harvard!

I would like to thank my college roommates, who were so supportive of me through four years of “keeping the noise down” and wild mood swings from lack of sleep; my teammates, in particular Donny, Stephen, John, Brent, Chris and Sean, who cheered me on, even when we competed against each other; for my coaches in particular Joe Bernal, Mike Chasson, and Matt Kredich who had such different styles, but made such a tremendous impact on me in different ways; the University for giving me a chance to represent this incredible institution; and, mostly my parents, who sacrificed so much to let me have this experience.  You all mean more to me than words could possibly express.