Jan. 27, 2000
by Alan Wasielewski
The 1998 fall semester started just like any other year for the Notre Dame men’s swimming and diving team. Weight training in the early morning followed by hours in the pool refining their techniques. That was the daily schedule they faced.
There was someone missing from those early workouts last year, though. Herb Huesman, who was supposed to be entering his junior season, was back home in Cincinnati, Ohio. While his teammates readied themselves for the upcoming season, Huesman prepared himself for surgery to remove a tumor in his chest.
Huesman had established himself as one of Notre Dame’s all-time great divers in his first two years of the program. He set two school records in one-meter diving and participated in two NCAA Zone Qualifier meets.
His preeminent goal of making the NCAA Championship meet would be put on hold, though. Huesman had discovered a tumor in his ribcage and going into surgery the doctors could not tell him if it was cancerous or not.
“It ended up to be benign,” Huesman said. “But they didn’t know until they took it out and did a biopsy. It was a little stressful. I went to three different doctors and none could say definitely what the tumor was.”
It was a tough time for Huesman. It would be the longest break from diving since he started the sport 13 years ago. The painful operation included cutting a piece of bone from one of his ribs. Eating and simple movements like going to the bathroom and deep breathing proved painful in his early recovery.
“I couldn’t do anything for two weeks,” Huesman said. “I just had to lay there, watch television and get fat. After I got off the post-operation medicine, things got back to normal. At first I couldn’t even walk to the bathroom by myself.”
With the operation behind him, Huesman set his sights on recovering and returning to diving at Notre Dame.
“I missed diving a lot,” Huesman said. “When you do something for 13 years you are going to miss it. It was the longest break I had from it in my life. This was totally unexpected and it was hard to get through. I had become accustomed to a schedule, lifting weights at this time, dive at this time. When I felt a little better, I wanted to get right back to it.”
Huesman returned to campus the spring semester of 1999. Another step in the recovery was taken, but Huesman knew it was a long road back.
“I came back second semester and started to get back into things gradually,” Huesman explained. “The team was out of town a lot and I never got back where I wanted to be. You feel like you almost waste a year of training. I know it was something I needed to take care of, but after it is over, you hate missing a whole year.”
This season, Huesman is back to form and embracing his role as leader of the Irish diving contingent. The three other divers on the roster – Andy Maggio, Joseph Miller and Tony Xie – are all freshman who look to Huesman for guidance.
“I’m the old man of the group,” Huesman said. “The underclassmen definitely look for you to lead by example. It puts pressure on you, but it is a good kind of pressure. You want to show them the right way to do things in and out of the water. It helps when they see me learning new things every day, and I have been diving a lot longer than some of them. They can say, ‘If he is still learning things, then I can keep learning things, too.'”
Huesman also has a special relationship with Maggio. They are long-time friends who dove on the same club team in Cincinnati.
“Andy is like my brother,” Huesman said. “He came from Washington, D.C., to my club team when he was about ten. I helped him out and showed him the ropes. He always hung out with my group of friends, who are older, and he matured a lot faster diving then he would have otherwise. It is great to have him here at Notre Dame. I talked to my rector and got him in the same dorm so when we have morning practices I can make sure he is up, and if he ever has a problem he can come see me.”
Maggio also pushes Huesman in the pool when they train together.
“It is also great to have him in the pool,” Huesman explained. “It’s good to have someone push you and train with you. When you have someone who you can train with and is on the same level with you, it is a lot easier to get better and push yourself.”
As Huesman returns to form this season, he personally is aiming for an NCAA berth and also focusing on the future of the Notre Dame program. He recognizes the changes Notre Dame swimming and diving has gone through the last few years and sees it reflected in his teammates.
“I think there is more of a focus,” Huesman said. “When I first got here, it seemed like we thought there were some teams we were going to lose to no matter what. Now we look at the schedule and tell ourselves we can win every meet. We are Notre Dame, we are the best, we need to work to be the best and keep working after that.”
Huseman has overcome many obstacles in his life, but the one he remembers the most is when he hit his head on the diving board in a meet. He uses that experience to guide him today.
“Hitting my head on the board was difficult to overcome,” Huesman said. “But you have to ask yourself a few questions. ‘Why am I doing this?’ ‘Do I still have something to prove?’ ‘Do I still have the motivation to get better?’ If you answer no to any of those questions, then maybe you should think of stopping. I haven’t answered no. I still have something to prove.”