My name is Andrew Schneider, Class of 1997. I swam my entire time at William & Mary from September 1993 through February 1997. My nickname was “Flea” and I was a frequent leader of the “towel cheer”. I primarily swam butterfly. Now I run a nonprofit in my home town of Arlington Virginia helping those facing financial crisis.
My freshman year swim season came to an end at a dual meet against Virginia Tech on February 3rd, 1994. Not fast enough to make the CAA travel squad, Coach Anne Anderson had prepped me and several others to finish our season at the last dual meet of the season. I was shaved and tapered and had the meet of my life – dropping time in the 200 Fly, 100 Free and 100 Fly.
My journey to and from that meet are memorable too. Walking on to the team as a freshman – my mother had to FedEx me Speedos because I had come to College without any. The journey began with barely being able to keep up with my new teammates – asking myself and being asked by them why I didn’t quit – why I was doing this? At my first travel meet against American University on November 17th 1993, I showed up in a bright yellow warmup suit apparently missing the memo on formal dress and was put in the 1000 free – an event I had never swam before. No doubt, the start of my career at William & Mary was bumpy and difficult. The journey pivoted during my first training trip to the BeachComber where four hours of training and twelve hours of sleep a day helped me transform from a good high school swimmer to someone who could hold his own on Tribe Swimming.
To this day, I can’t think of Tribe Swimming and that season without getting emotional. In short, Tribe Swimming both changed and defined my life. I finished my Freshman Year as “Most Improved” and went on to swim for the College until I graduated. I was never the fastest but I am proud of what I brought to Tribe Swimming – passion, support of my teammates (most of them faster) and deep and special relationships with the men and women who I had the honor of calling my coaches and teammates. From Anne Anderson to Ned Skinner, to Craig Birgfield to Heather Black to Brian Katt, Mike Hardy, John Rockwell, Melissa Morris, Mandy Caldwell, Matthew Snow to Jin Yamamoto to Kyle Ahlgren and all of the other men and women I swam with. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of them, our memories, and how we shaped one another and, I believe, shaped the College and the world, through the people we were and have become.
Some of us are wealthy, some of us are well known, some of us still swim, and some of us have moved on to other sports and passions. But there is a constant theme if you pull back from the specifics to see the type of people we are in the aggregate. We are still passionate, supportive, and caring – of one another, our College,and of the world. I shudder to think of what our lives and the life of the College would be like without these experiences.
During a COVID-19 Zoom call in April nearly 30 of us gathered – for some it had been just days and for others decades since we had seen one another. It didn’t matter- the moments bled away – we were One Tribe and One Family, again, as always.
My Tribe story is hardly unique – in fact, it’s probably typical. But that doesn't mean this program wasn’t unique. In the end, College is usually a fleeting moment in an entire long life, but our time at the College shaped us. And nothing shaped us more than Tribe Swimming. And that shaping continues to pay dividends in our lives, in the world, and in the life of the College.
No doubt someone can make a financial argument as to why cutting Swimming makes sense on paper – there are calculations, white papers, and consultant reports that provide all of the justification that the College thinks that they need – but that doesn’t make this decision the right one, the rational one, or the one that will reap the benefits that the College or the Athletic Director thinks it will.
In swimming, people love to watch the finishes - the hundredths of seconds that determine winners and losers. But for swimmers we know that sometimes it’s split seconds during a race and not the ending that matters most - a missed turn, an amazing start, a foregone breath, that really are the determinants. Sometimes, it comes down to the tougher decisions – not breathing out of a turn, ignoring the water in your goggles, putting your head down and grinding inside of the flags – it's those moments and those decisions that define us.
Sometimes, just focusing on the ending and the finish, misses the saga of the inbetween. If I had given up in October 1993 - where would I be now? Where would Tribe Swimming? Where would the College and the world? And, I am but one swimmer/alumnus/person out of hundreds. Giving up on Tribe Swimming now would be similarly shortsighted and wrong. In the end, the savings won’t be as great, the losses will be greater, and the College and the world will be lesser for it. Sometimes the obvious decision or the easiest decision is not the right decision. I think we, as a College community, can make those tough decisions and do better.