Feb. 28, 2000
by Dan Bent
There are few schools besides Notre Dame that place as much emphasis on academics as they do athletics for their student-athletes. Yet, this balance between the two and a desire for excellence in both is what appeals to so many of the student-athletes that attend the university. It comes as no surprise then, to find Irish senior swimmer Ray Fitzpatrick among the students that compete for the honor of Notre Dame.
Athletically, Fitzpatrick has established himself as one of the fastest swimmers in Irish history. He owns several school records, including the top 50-, 100- and 200-yard freestyle marks. He is also a member of the record holding 400-yard medley and 200- and 400-yard freestyle relay teams. School records, however, are something new to Fitzpatrick.
“These are the first records I have ever had,” Fitzpatick states. “I never received any of the records on my high school team just because I didn’t improve enough until I got to college.”
Improvement, both athletically and academically, has always been a central focus for Fitzpatrick. An extremely goal-oriented individual, he has combined an extensive amount of in-the-water training with dry-land and weight training to improve his times every year.
“One of Ray’s strongest qualities is that he is extremely committed to excellent performance,” according to head coach Tim Welsh. “He’s very thorough in his own training and he is an example of how to come to the pool and work hard.”
“I’ve actually done a lot of improving over my four years,” comments Fitzpatrick. “I’ve always tried to train in the distance lane, even though I’m a middle distance and sprint swimmer. I think that has helped me. I’ve also done a lot of training in the spring and summer when the team didn’t really have to do anything.”
This dedication and commitment has rewarded Fitzpatrick greatly. The Doylestown, Pa., native has not only set school records, but has also been a six-time all-BIG EAST selection, become the first men’s swimmer to provisionally qualify for the NCAA championships three times, and recently, he swam a qualifying time for the 2000 Summer Olympic games in Sydney, Australia.
While recognition as a standout athlete and school-record holder thrills Fitzpatrick, he hopes that it does not last long.
“I am happy with the records, but I also don’t hope to see them here in 10 years when I come back. Maybe in two years I’d still like to see them, but for the good of the team I think other times need to be as fast as my swims, if not faster.”
In addition to his own personal standing in the record books, Fitzpatrick has helped the team improve significantly every year. As a freshman, he and the other Irish swimmers finished seventh in the BIG EAST conference meet, followed by a fourth-place finish his sophomore year and a second place finish his junior year. Just two weeks ago, Fitzpatrick and his teammates turned in another solid performance and again placed second in the conference.
“Individually I performed well,” Fitzpatrick says. “I would have dreamed to do a little bit better, but couldn’t have expected to do any better. I think the same goes for the team’s performance. We had a whole lot of really good swims, but only had a few phenomenal swims, which says a lot about the team’s capabilities in the future.”
While the future remains bright for the Notre Dame men’s swimming team, Fitzpatrick’s future away from the pool equals that brilliance. During his four years at Notre Dame, Fitzpatrick has also excelled academically. A senior math major in the College of Science, he will graduate at the top of his class and pursue a career in medicine. He has already been accepted into Temple University’s medical school and awaits to hear from others.
As Fitzpatrick has excelled both in the water and in the classroom, he indicates that achieving a balance between the two has not been that difficult for him.
“I would say that my experience has been very rewarding,” says Fitzpatrick of his time at Notre Dame. “I don’t think it has been that hard to balance the two just because I have high expectations for myself. I do it because I want to do it. I want to do well in both swimming and in school, so striving to succeed hasn’t really been a burden.”
Fitzpatrick’s example of what a Notre Dame student-athlete should embody has not gone unnoticed by others.
“One of Ray’s strongest contributions to our program has been his ability to excel both academically and athletically,” comments Welsh. “Our dream is to do both things, to be great students and great athletes. What makes Ray so special is that he has been able to do both things so well.”
While Fitzpatrick has enjoyed his experience as a student-athlete at Notre Dame, he feels that he is ready for life away from swimming.
I think right now, at this point in time, I’m looking forward to not swimming, just because it’s time for me to move on to a different phase of my life,” says Fitzpatrick. “I’m sure I will miss it, but for now I’m satisfied and happy with the way my career went. I think it’s a good time to be finished.”
As he prepares for graduation and a future in medicine, Ray Fitzpatrick can look back on his time spent at Notre Dame and know that he embodied all the qualities the university holds dear, and that he truly knew the meaning of the phrase “student-athlete.”