“To be completely honest, I did not think I was going to break a record,” freshman Anthony Fitzgerald admitted a few days after the 2021 CCIW Swimming and Diving Cup event “When I finished the race, I looked at the clock and thought, ‘Wait, that’s actually really fast. Did I just break the record?’”
Fitzgerald was competing in the unofficial conference meet that the CCIW teams used to end their season. On Thursday and Friday, Feb. 25-26, the Thunder swim teams held an inter-squad meet called the Thunder Cup. This was then followed, on Saturday the 27th, by the 2021 CCIW Cup event, held at Wheaton College and Carthage College. Wheaton hosted Illinois Wesleyan and North Central,
while Carthage hosted Augustana. Millikin and Carroll competed at Carthage on Friday. The results were compiled together on the CCIW D3 Swimming and Diving Result website, but this was not an official CCIW Championship, due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Fitzgerald dominated the weekend when he broke the school record on Feb. 27 in the men’s 100-yard breaststroke. According to the men’s team head coach Jacob Ayers, Dave Pederson set the record in 1983 with a time of 58.41 seconds. It was first broken in 2003 by John Taylor who clocked in at 55.99, then again in 2016 by Elliott Penson, who swam it in 55.81, Fitzgerald’s record breaking swim came in at 55.56. Fitzgerald won the event, and would have been seeded third heading into the NCAA D3 Championship. The NCAA National Championship was cancelled for the season, due to the pandemic.
Adi Shephard, a freshman on the women’s swim team, described Fitzgerald as “quiet” yet “poised.” Known for his modesty and kindness, Fitzgerald challenges both teams to work harder in practice and in competition. Sophomore biology major Harrison Smith said, “When he came as a recruit, it was clear that he was the fastest swimmer on the trip, but he didn’t try comparing times. He cared more about getting to know the team.”
Fitzgerald, who is from Los Angeles, did not plan on continuing to swim in college. He did not want sports to get in the way of his academics. After his coaches and fellow teammates from both his high school and club teams persuaded him, he decided to consider swimming at the next level. But he did not let that get in his way of choosing a college. He wanted to go to a small Christian school with a good political science program.
Fitzgerald visited Wheaton twice, the first time as a prospective student and the second time as a swimming recruit. After applying to many different schools, he narrowed his decision down to the University of Southern California, Boston College and Wheaton. He said he chose Wheaton for its Christ-centeredness, academics, and D3 athletics.
Ben Griffith, an applied health science major and junior on the men’s swim team, sees potential in Fitzgerald both academically and athletically. “He works hard,” Griffith said. “He prioritizes work over play. He has a schedule that he is committed to.” Coming to Wheaton as a National Merit Scholar, Fitzgerald works as hard in his schoolwork as in practice.
“One of the reasons I recruited him right from the beginning was that he seemed like a kind person — competitive without being haughty — and seems to have others’ best interests in mind,” said Coach Ayers. Fitzgerald’s love for the sport and for his team is seen by his quiet encouragement and cheerfulness. “He leads by quiet example. Watching him swim is really exciting, and to me it’s a great motivation.” said Smith.
As his coach, Ayers is excited to see what Fitzgerald will do in the upcoming three years. “I’m really excited to see him compete at the NCAA meet and to get the chance to become an All-American.”
The national meet was cancelled for the 2020-21 season, due to COVID-19. In addition to his record in the 100-yard breaststroke, Fitzgerald’s 200-yard breaststroke time was also close to the time currently listed on the record board in Lederhouse Natatorium. Ayers said that breaking that record may be one of Fitzgerald’s goals for next year.
No one knows for sure what next season will look like, but Fitzgerald is excited to return to the pool. “It’s just been the best, most hospitable atmosphere this last year,” he said, “even with the craziness.”