Sydney Fisher out of the water

Freestyle swimmer and Mason junior, Sydney Fisher, had a successful meet at the Atlantic 10 Swimming and Diving Championships last month, where she defended her title in the 50-yard freestyle; broken her A-10 record; and lowered her team and meet record. As a junior and NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Championship hopeful, Fisher still has a year at Mason to continue breaking records and exceeding goals.

Fourth Estate sat down with Fisher so we could learn more about her life both in and out of the pool.

FE: You had a lot of awesome success at the Atlantic 10 Championships. How does that feel getting out of the pool and knowing you reached your goals?

SF: It’s really nice. I feel like I had a breakout last year at our invite meet, and I set a few meet records there. I wasn’t far off from some team records, so going into A-10s, I was one of the top qualifiers, and I’ve never been there before. I was kind of nervous … this year going into A-10s. I won the 50-meter freestyle last year, so I was definitely more confident, because I knew I needed to defend my title. I was the only girl under 23, so I knew I could do this again and be able to succeed. For the 100-meter butterfly, I really just had a breakout swim there. I didn’t see that coming and I was definitely very nervous for that, because that was an event I wasn’t guaranteed to win.

FE: When did you get involved in swimming?

SF: When I was 12 I started swimming competitively and from there, I started to pick up the skills and found that I enjoyed it and started doing it year round.

Fisher has been surrounded by professional swimmers her whole life. Her mother also swam competitively in college, and Fisher’s head coach, Peter Ward, competed in the Olympics after swimming for the Canadian National Swimming Team from 1979-88. Hired in 1998, Ward founded Mason’s swim program.

FE: What made you want to swim competitively in college?

SF: My senior year, my coach was asking me where I was looking at [for college], because he swam in college. And, my mom swam in college, so I was just very interested.

FE: How did you choose Mason?

SF: I started getting a lot of offers from D2 and D3 schools. Mason and University of South Carolina were the only two schools that were D1 that I was looking at. South Carolina’s roster was full and they were telling me I could come in a year, and I was like, ‘Well, I’m not going to take off a year.’ So I actually contacted them [Mason], and they didn’t know who I was. I came on a recruiting trip and enjoyed it. I didn’t end up committing until the very last minute, but I’m happy I came here. I don’t think I could see myself anywhere else, honestly.

FE: And you’ve done well here.

SF: Yes, I have. I never thought I would be at this level. Coming here, I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll do this and this,’ but I never thought that I’d be an actual competitor to provide to the team because I was just an average swimmer. But I’ve gotten a lot better since being here. I dropped a second and a half from my 53 meter, and four and a half to five seconds from my 100-meter butterfly. It may not seem like a lot, but even a second is a lot to drop.

FE: What are your swim goals for next year?

SF: My goal for next year is just to podium and get under 50 seconds. Overall, we did really well! I know my best time this year, but it’s still not where I want to be. My number one goal is to make NCAA’s [list of] top 40 competitors in the country for each event. There are Olympians and girls who have been swimming for years. NCAA is actually quicker than the Olympic qualifying times tend to be and you still get to be there with top tier swimmers.

FE: What does a normal day look like for you in season?

SF: Monday, Wednesday and Friday we have practice, so I wake up at 5:45 a.m., and we have practice at 6:15 a.m. We usually lift for an hour, and then we’ll have practice for an hour. Weight room is always something different, but for swimming, it’s usually a routine.

FE: How do you think competing and practicing year round has taken a toll on you?

SF: In high school, I swam maybe five times a week for an hour and half or two hours. Here, it’s nine practices a week, two hours a week. And I think it’s only benefitted me. I’ve started lifting weights, which I’ve never done before, so I think that has just made me grow more. It also makes you have to manage your time better. You swim, you have school, you want to be able to balance all of this these, and you’re tired. You’re more tired than you used to be, so you have to figure out when you’re going to get your homework done and when you’re going to hang out with your friends. You have to get A and B done before you can do C.

Fisher plans to stay in the area this summer to continue training for the Olypmic trials this summer. Only the top two finalists from each event advance. Because of this, Fisher’s training has had to change to help her prepare.

SF: It’s an Olympic year, so I’m going to trials in July in Omaha. I’ve never trained in the summer, so it’s gong to be different. But I will be here in the summer, so they’ll have their fun with me. That meet is essentially how you qualify for the Olympics — if you’re not at that meet, then you’re not going.

FE: Is going to the Olympics the ultimate goal?

SF: That’s everyone’s dream, but I do not see myself placing second and going just because I am not even in the top 10 with time. But just being at that meet will be cool because I’ll get to see people like Michael Phelps and get to hang out with them. You get to watch them live rather than just watching them on TV. I just qualified three weeks ago at an event at the Naval Academy.

While training and goals seem individualized, Fisher expressed positivity about the team. She has seen the dynamics change since her freshman year and says it’s hard to make sure the entire team is united, but members of the team have stepped up to mentor younger members.

SF: I care a lot about this team and making sure that we are one united and not separated. You see so many teams that are separated and my freshman year, the seniors just unified everybody. That kind of left [when the seniors graduated] and it’s been a little bit difficult, but there have been a few people that have stepped up in places. I like to think that I’ve helped in some ways, because I’m able to show them you don’t [always] have [to have] a good meet, but in the end you have to keep striving. We go through a lot of hard practices, and pushing through it is difficult at times. But when you have that team bond and you see one of your teammates get down, you back them up and make sure they’re okay.

Fisher shared about a recent experience when she nearly “broke down” at an event because she was “caught up in her own head.” The pressure to do well can be overwhelming, but Fisher said she realized that winning isn’t everything if you do your best.

SF: Your parents always tell you that they don’t care whether you win or lose. [They say,] ‘As long as you’re having fun, we’re having fun.’ So essentially, that’s just what I told myself. At the end of the day, this is a very mental sport and if you can’t grasp it mentally, then you’re not going to succeed. You put pressure on yourself, because you set goals for yourself, but it’s very hard [not to get in your own head].

FE: If there was one thing you could tell other people about swimming as a sport, what would it be?

SF: I don’t think other people understand our practice regimen. I do truly think it’s a lot more difficult than other sports here [at Mason]. I think a lot of sports here have one practice a day, mid-afternoon, earliest they have is 10 o’clock [a.m.]. Whereas we’re up at 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning, and we’re done working out before a majority of this campus is awake, so it’s very, very hard. You have to stay focused and stay on top of things in order to succeed. A lot of people don’t see it, and they ask if you want to do things, but you’re like, ‘Oh, I have practice,’ and you have to work everything around around it. Practice comes first.

With a strict practice schedule and schoolwork, Fisher also manages to babysit part time. However, swimming comes first in her life. She explained how this mindset is often only understood by other swimmers, which makes them a closer as a team.

SF: We all understand what we’re dealing with everyday so it’s a lot easier to live with that. Whereas if you live with someone that doesn’t understand or isn’t an athlete, they might not understand. It’s a very different lifestyle that a lot of people don’t realize and if they ask, it can be explained, and they realize that it’s a lot. We do a lot to just succeed and to try and keep ourselves going. We push each other, and if we do hang out, we hang out with other athletes or each other. I think, honestly, just the team aspect is what people don’t understand. When we do stuff, we do it together, and we don’t really stray away.

FE: What’s your favorite Mason swim memory so far?

SF: One of my favorite memories was my freshman year at conferences. I was really nervous. I didn’t qualify for finals in the 100-meter freestyle, but they were debating who to put on relay. There was this junior who had been on it [relay] previously, and she talked to me and told me to tell the coaches whether or not I wanted to be on it. And I was a freshman, but they put me on it, and we ended up getting on the podium and getting second place. That was really cool, because it was my first time really getting to be with them [the upperclassmen]. I had decent swims before, but nothing to stand out. That meet was my first time really swimming with the big dogs.

FE: When you’re not in the pool where can we find you?

SF: Home! I am usually just hanging out. We [the swimmers and I] don’t really do too much … We chill with the team.

FE: What’s a fun fact about you?

SF: I have five siblings: one stepsister, two step brothers, a half sister and a full sister, but it’s kind of nice having that [a step family] because I get double holidays!

FE: What is your major?

SF: I’m a kinesiology major with a coaching minor. Once I graduate, immediately I am probably looking at coaching of some sort. My goal is to not have to move home! As fun as it is to coach little kids, once you get to higher levels it’s fun to see how they develop. I’ll probably look into doing more collegiate- and high school-level strength and conditioning.

This summer, Fisher will be coaching a team of 75 swimmers in Fairfax while juggling summer classes and training for the Olympic trials, which take place in July.