There can be little doubt that Meredith Bryarly ’01 is the best female sprinter in Yale swimming history, but when she graduates Monday she will walk away with a lot more than the six school records she set in her three amazing years in the pool.
A defending Ivy League champion after her sophomore year, Bryarly decided to take a year off from swimming to concentrate on her architecture major before returning this season to claim the championship once again.
After 12 years of competitive swimming, the decision to put her career on hold was a difficult one for Bryarly, but ultimately she knew that academics had to take priority.
“I was taking an architecture class [junior year] that involved a big time commitment,” Bryarly said. “I was out of the water so much, and it’s too hard to swim halfway.”
The star’s departure came as a surprise to her teammates and coaches, who knew that Bryarly would likely dominate the league her junior year.
“It was really upsetting,” captain Laura Schned ’01 said. “It came as a shock, but we all understand that she had to do what she had to do.”
For Bryarly, what she had to do was spend the year completing the major’s rigorous requirements and swimming only sporadically in the winter and spring.
But once the school year ended, she devoted herself to making a comeback, working out daily in New Haven under the tutelage of head swimming coach Frank Keefe and training alongside Olympians George Gleason ’01 and Stephen Fahy ’01.
“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.”
Bryarly’s hard work paid off at this year’s Ivy Championships — the team’s biggest event of the year — where Yale swam to a third place finish, buoyed by two individual titles and three schools records from Bryarly. The senior sensation set a school record in the 50-meter freestyle with a time of 22.82 seconds en route to a first place finish in the event. She also won the 100-meter freestyle in a record 49.88 seconds and sped through the 200-meter freestyle with a record time of 1:49.87.
“As the year progressed, she became the dominant figure in the Ivy sprint events,” head coach Frank Keefe said. “We could always count on her in the big meets.”
Based on her performance at the Ivy Championships, Bryarly became the only female Bulldog to qualify for the NCAA Championships — held March 15-17 in East Meadow, N.Y. — where she finished 18th, 20th and 46th in the 50, 100 and 200 meter freestyle events, respectively.
“People say it’s the second fastest meet in the world, so it was pretty intimidating,” Bryarly said. “But I was still really excited to go since it had been one of my goals all year.”
All these impressive accomplishments would make a fabulous career for any swimmer, but it becomes even more remarkable considering that Bryarly achieved such success in only three seasons.
“We didn’t know what to expect when she returned, but we never expected her to be as successful as she was,” Keefe said. “With the way she swam this year — making NCAAs — I just wish she had another year to compete.”
But this time Bryarly has no intentions of following her success with time off — she plans to continue swimming competitively after graduation.
“She definitely has the talent to swim at the next level,” Keefe said. “She just needs the confidence and right mentality to be successful.”
And with all the records and titles she has won, Bryarly still has her eyes set on more.
“It was nice to break the records; it was the icing on the cake of a great career. But with swimming you always have goals, and once you reach those goals, there are always bigger ones to shoot for.”