A defending Ivy League champion, Meredith Bryarly ’01 had a reputation to uphold. But in her role as a Yale student, she had requirements to fill.

In her junior year, she realized that she did not have the time to both improve as an athlete and focus on her studies.

After struggling with her decision, she chose to put more time into her architecture major and put athletics on hold. For the first time in 12 years, Yale’s star women’s swimmer got out of the pool and stopped swimming.

“I was taking an architecture class that involved a big time commitment,” Bryarly said. “I was out of the water so much, and it’s too hard to swim halfway.”

But her hiatus did not last long. Bryarly returned to training last summer, and now has completed an incredible comeback returning to the team in top form.

Bryarly left the pool while she was still at the peak of her career. In her sophomore season, she won the Ivy League championship in the 100-yard freestyle after finishing second in the same event as a freshman.

Coming into her junior season, she was expected to defend her title and to dominate the Ivy League competition.

Her departure came as a surprise to the team — on which she was well liked and respected.

“It was really upsetting,” captain Laura Schned ’01 said. “It came as shock, but we all understood that she had to do what she had to do.”

After completing her junior year, Bryarly began to plan her return to swimming, knowing that her tough junior year requirements were finished.

She had spent the winter and spring working out irregularly, committing herself to getting back into shape.

“I love swimming, and I missed it,” she said. “I always knew I would be back.”

Indeed, Bryarly’s return has been nothing short of incredible. Two weeks ago, she won both the 50 and 100-yard freestyle races at H-Y-Ps, while setting personal records of 23.46 and 51.07.

She missed qualifying for the prestigious NCAA meet in the 50-yard freestyle by only one-hundredth of a second. And once again, Bryarly is expected to compete for the top position at the Ivy League championships.

“She’s an amazing kid,” head coach Frank Keefe said. “It’s very difficult for people to come back. To do it your senior year is really difficult because you don’t have a lot of time.”

In order to get back into shape this summer she spent five weeks in the Elm City, taking classes and training under Keefe. Her training partners, Olympians George Gleason ’01 and Steven Fahy ’01, provided motivation and competition.

“There was one week where it was just me and them,” Bryarly said. “I wasn’t in great shape, and I had to do George’s intervals. It was just impossible.”

There were some moments when Bryarly says she doubted whether she could return to the pool this year.

“My stroke felt funny and weak,” she said. “There were times when I thought I might never get back into shape. Once the season started things started to feel better. I had time to rest, and now I feel physically stronger.”

Keefe has also noticed changes in his star sprinter.

“[This year] she’s more focused and has more confidence,” he said. “She’s swum times that are exceptionally good.”

As one of three seniors on a team of full of freshmen and sophomores, Bryarly has taken on a leadership role.

“She is a role model,” Paige Harazin ’04 said. “It’s obvious that she really loves swimming. She’s really positive, and she’s shown me a lot about training and competing.”

Bryarly says her senior season has been her best at Yale, thanks to the combination of team and individual successes. The Bulldogs have surpassed preseason expectations and have a chance to contend at the Ivy League Championships in Princeton Feb. 22-24.

Bryarly says she hopes to reclaim the 100-yard freestyle championship and to compete for the 50-yard freestyle title. She also wants to make the NCAA qualifying time in the 50 and 100-yard freestyles and to compete at the NCAA championships in Long Island, N. Y.

“I’d like to see her break 50 seconds [and the Yale record] in the 100-yard freestyle,” Keefe said. “It would be great to finish off your career with a breakthrough. She’s capable of it. It’s up to her to seize the opportunity.”