Oct. 11, 2000
by Peter Stuhldreher
When senior Dan Szilier’s older brother Greg began playing sports, his mom wanted him to play a sport in which he couldn’t get hurt. Thus, he began swimming.
Wanting to following in his big brother’s footsteps, 16 years ago Dan Szilier also began swimming. Little did he know that decision made as an unassuming five-year-old would go on to affect his life in ways he never could have imagined. A journey that began in his older brother’s footsteps has taken him places he never thought possible as a child.
Szilier, a native of Norristown, Pa., never became serious about swimming until his junior year of high school. He began swimming with Team Foxcatcher in the Norristown area and began training 363 days a year. Szilier had to get used to early-morning workouts and lengthy training regiments but, from then on, he took the sport more seriously and starting competing at a higher level.
He won Pennsylvania all-state honors 10 times during his career at Methacton High School and set conference and school records in the 100 and 200 breaststroke. He then took his stroke to the national level as he finished third in the 200-meter and eighth in the 100-meter breaststroke at the United States Swimming (USS) senior national meet. Szilier was named rookie of the meet for his efforts.
Following his senior year, Szilier had to choose which college to attend. He once again looked to big brother Greg, then a sophomore at Notre Dame, for guidance. It didn’t take long for Dan to come to Notre Dame.
“I was looking for a place where I would be able to get a degree and get a good job after graduation. I followed Greg there because I knew what kind of place Notre Dame was,” Szilier said.
Szilier has made the most of his time at Notre Dame, both in and out of the pool. His freshman year, Szilier placed sixth at the BIG EAST championship in the 200 breaststroke, swimming Notre Dame’s fastest time of the season and catching the attention of not only head coach Tim Welsh, but the nation as well.
“Dan is a working man’s breaststroker,” Welsh says.
“He works so hard and he will give you his full effort every practice and every race.”
Then taking the national stage again, Szilier placed seventh in the 200 breaststroke at the Phillips 66 National Championships. Soon after that, the phone rang as Szilier received the biggest call of his swimming life. He had been selected as a member of Team USA for the 1999 World University Games in Majorca, Spain, becoming the first men’s swimmer from Notre Dame to qualify for a national team.
Szilier had a solid sophomore season as he won the 200 breaststroke at the BIG EAST Championships, earning all-BIG EAST accolades and becoming only the second Irish swimmer to win an individual title. He also set the Notre Dame record in both the 100 and 200 breaststroke at the Notre Dame Invitational earlier in the season.
It was then off to Spain where Szilier would place ninth in the 200 breaststroke in 2:18.88, while wearing the red, white and blue of the United States.
“Dan brings so much to the table. He is focused on excellence in American swimming,” Welsh says.
“All of his efforts swimming on the national level verify that he can train and race with anyone in the country. If you compare his training routine to the other elite swimmers in the United States, you will find that Dan trains as hard, if not harder, than most of the national-level swimmers.”
This past summer, Szilier once again represented the United States as he received one of the biggest honors of his life when he was invited to the Olympic Trials. He began training 50 hours in preparing for his chance of a lifetime.
“I realized that this was my shot,” said Szilier of the possibility of competing in Sydney for the 2000 Olympic Games.
“I knew I probably wouldn’t be swimming in another four years, so I wanted to give it my all and take my shot at the Olympics.”
His Olympic dream fell short, however, as he swam a disappointing five seconds slower than his personal best time.
“I was really disappointed. If I would have swam my personal best, it would have put me in contention to have a great chance at making the team,” said Szilier.
With the Olympics taking place last month, Szilier has had cause to look back on his career, which brought him so close to taking part in the Sydney Games. He openly admits he was not able to watch his own event – the 200 breaststroke.
Disappointment aside, Szilier is primed and ready to go this season. Entering his final year, he hopes to tread water where no Irish men’s swimmer or diver has gone before.
Since his arrival on campus three years ago, Szilier has been instrumental in Notre Dame’s dramatic improvement, going from a fourth-place team finish in the BIG EAST his freshman year, to second-place finishes his sophomore and junior seasons.
Szilier also has a great chance to become the first Irish men’s swimmer in any individual event to qualify for the NCAA Championships.
“The big goal this year is the NCAAs,” said Szilier.
“I have never really swam my best during the season. I have always been more of a summer swimmer. This season I need to be a leader.”
Szilier will graduate in the spring with a degree in management information systems and what the future holds is uncertain for him. Szilier is so accustomed to the life of a being a full-time student-athlete at Notre Dame that he hesitates to think about life after collegiate swimming.
“It’s been so long since I haven’t had morning practices that I don’t even remember what it’s like,” Szilier said.
“As long as I keep doing it, I don’t realize how good the other half lives.”
Dan Szilier has it pretty good right now.