PAWTUCKET â€“ Six years ago, as a freshman at Tolman High, Ethan Etheridge decided to join the swim team more or less for the fun of it.
He admitted to being a decent swimmer, but nothing premier.
Slowly but surely, his times in his specialties â€“ the 50- and 100-yard breaststroke â€“ began to drop, and that naturally caused him to strive for more speed.
Etheridge claims he never would've dreamed way back when that he'd be in the position he is now, as one of the most decorated swimmers in the history of Elms College, stationed in Chicopee in western Massachusetts.
So you probably have never heard of it, and so it is a tiny school. The men's team's record board nevertheless is impressive, and Etheridge has his name plastered all over it.
As a freshman last season, Etheridge grabbed three individual Elms marks and shared four other relay records. After his stupendous sophomore campaign, which concluded two weekends ago at the East Coast Athletic Conference Swimming & Diving Championships at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., the Blazer (what an appropriate nickname!) now owns five individual marks in yards and four more in meters.
As for the five relays commonly contested at the collegiate level, he has his name posted on four in yards and the same amount in meters.
At that ECAC meet at Navy, he manufactured a personal-best time of 59.69 in the 100-yard breaststroke to place 17th overall. The two most impressive things about that swim were, first, he broke a minute for the first time ever, and, second, he just missed scoring while racing against most of the top NCAA Division I, II and III breaststrokers from all over New England and the Middle Atlantic states.
â€śI had wanted to break a minute for such a long time,â€ť he laughed. â€śI only missed placing in the top 16 by .40. I had opted out of the 200-yard breaststroke because I wanted to go after the 100 freestyle (school) record, so I set my sights on doing that while leading off the 400 freestyle relay. I ended up going 48.01, which broke it by .23.â€ť
With it, he shattered the clocking Zack LeBarron had set back in 2010.
The weekend before, at the New England Intercollegiate Championships at the University of Rhode Island's Tootell Natatorium, he placed third in the 50-yard breaststroke (27.14), fifth in the 100 breaststroke (1:00.43) and sixth in the 200 breaststroke (2:15.87).
In all three, he not only achieved PRs but also lowered his own marks. He also helped the 200 medley relay take third (1:39.07) before posting a fourth in the 200 freestyle relay (1:30.12) and a third in the 400 freestyle relay (3:19.55).
He now possesses men's school records in the three breaststroke (yard) distances, the 100 freestyle and the 200 individual medley (2:06.54, that done in a Great Northeast Athletic Conference dual meet early this season).
When asked if he ever anticipated a sophomore campaign like the one he produced, Etheridge stated, â€śYou know, I haven't really thought about it. Now, looking back, I guess I am thinking, 'How the heck did I do it!' I feel pretty humbled, because we've got some really good swimmers.
â€śI knew I'd have an impact when I first got to Elms, but never this much,â€ť he added. â€śI really felt this was going to be my year. I had a lot of goals I wanted to achieve, and I guess I did â€¦ Now we're done with the season, and right now what I'm looking forward to more than anything is getting some sleep!â€ť
Regarding Etheridge, the natural question is this: How did you develop from a swimmer with respectable times to those that reign on the regional level?
â€śHonestly, it was rather gradual how I started thinking about getting faster,â€ť he noted thoughtfully. â€śI didn't take swimming that seriously until my senior year. My coach, Bree Schebel (herself a Tiger who swam at Elms), pushed me to my limits, then past them. She'd tell me to ignore the pain, and drive through that pain barrier.
â€śI will say after every race, even as a (high school) junior, I was never happy with my time, even if it was my best ever. I was always thinking I could go faster. I remember once I started to see faster times my senior year, I became more driven.
â€śI'd go to my high school practice, where we'd swim a two or three thousand yards, then go to the Boys & Girls Club (of Pawtucket) to train there for another two hours.
â€śI really wanted to get better. I figured if I trained more than anybody else, I'd have the upper hand,â€ť he continued. â€śI kept my mind-set at a very high standard, and with the more work I put in at practice, I found myself doing better times.â€ť
It paid off. As a Tolman senior, he placed second at the R.I. Interscholastic Championships at URI with a 100-yard breaststroke time of 1:03.47.
â€śI lost to a kid from Middletown, and I wasn't too happy about that,â€ť he said. â€śI also didn't do my best time; I went 1:03.32 as a junior.â€ť
At college, he and his teammates trained in a 25-meter pool, and they often would swim 6,000-8,000 meters during afternoon workouts. Once the hard conditioning phase came, the Blazers would attend both morning and afternoon sessions, eclipsing at least 12,000 meters.
That translates to between seven and eight miles per day.
Etheridge gleaned his second GNAC Swimmer of the Week laurel after superior performances against Keene State and Regis College during the week of Jan. 19-25. Against the latter, he powered to a new school mark of 2:41.95 in the 200-meter breaststroke, then broke LeBarron's 100-meter freestyle record when he unleashed a stellar 55.43. He did so by .29.
In addition, that clocking broke Regis' pool mark by .19.
He rarely lost in his breaststroke specialties during the GNAC dual-meet season, and has racked up more honors that he can remember.
â€śWhat drives me? That's a really good question, very hard to answer,â€ť he chuckled. â€śI don't know, except I love competing. I have a passion for it. I just love the sport, I really do. I'd like to compete forever. I never want to give up it up.
â€śI think my work ethic has helped me become successful here,â€ť he added. â€śI'm just very self-driven. When I set a goal for myself, I refuse to give up on it. When I went 55.43 in the 100-meter free, my coach (Tyler) told me he had no idea where it came from. I just said, 'I don't, either, but I'm glad I did it!' We were both astonished I swam that fast.â€ť
Etheridge brings the same kind of mind-set to his education; he's currently chasing a double-major in business management and marketing.
â€śIt's hard to manage all of this â€“ my studies and swimming, but I'm getting it done somehow, I guess,â€ť he offered. â€śI know once I get out of school, I'd like to find my way into the music industry. My eventual goal is to become a manager for a musician because I really like music. I'd love to help out on the business end of it.
â€śTime-wise, I reached almost all of the goals I had set for myself â€“ this year,â€ť he added. â€śI wanted desperately to break a minute in the 100 (yard) breaststroke; in fact, that's what I've wanted since I first started swimming it. Before each and every meet, I'd think, 'Wow! Maybe I'll do it today.' If I didn't, I'd just work harder.â€ť
Despite this glorious season's end, he has no plans on taking a lengthy break.
â€śMy original plan was to join a (USA Swimming-affiliated) club team this spring and summer, once school's over, to stay in shape,â€ť he said. â€śThe problem is it's so expensive. I don't know if I can afford it, so I'm going to have to do some research.
â€śI'll definitely stay in shape somehow. I've been thinking about doing some triathlons. After all, maybe those will help me get stronger for next season. I'd really like to get back to the ECACs and place in the top 16. Who knows? Maybe I'll break 59. I really want to be a point scorer. I'm also looking to win the 50 breaststroke next year at the New Englands, the same thing goes for the 100.
â€śI'd be a dark horse, (as) there are a lot of fast swimmers out there, but I already know that. If I want it, I'm just going to have to work for it even harder.â€ť
That's Etheridge, always looking ahead.View more articles in: