As co-captain of men’s swimming and diving, Ben Doob ’02 will be traveling to Wesleyan University this weekend as his team will attempt to win its 16th consecutive regional championship meet.
Afterwards, Doob will swim in one final meet, the NCAA Div. III Championship, set for March 21-23. This final meet will conclude Doob’s lifelong dedication to competitive swimming, one that began many years ago.
“I have been swimming competitively since I was seven,” Doob said. “I swam in high school all four years, and I was a captain my senior year.”
However, in his home state of Massachusetts, Doob said that his Harvard University-based club team was much more important in his life than his high school team.
“My priority was my club swimming [team],” Doob said. “Our club team was run by the Harvard University head coach, so I knew him through my four years there.”
Though he could have swum at a Div. I college, Doob choose Williams since he was not sure if he would continue swimming.
“I came here because it was a toss-up between a Div. I or a Div. III [school],” Doob said. “At the time, in my senior year, I really didn’t know how much longer I was going to swim. I was starting to burn out even though I was swimming better than I had ever swum before.”
Still feeling burned out, Doob had a very tough first year of swimming at Williams.
“I came here and really just didn’t do well my freshman year,” he said. “I came in as a pretty good recruit and swam extremely poorly.”
However, after a year on the team under former Head Coach Carl Samuelson, Doob began to enjoy the sport again: “In the process, I really started to like swimming again,” Doob said.
Though Doob still talks and is friends with Samuelson, “he just wasn’t the coach that was going to get me where I needed to go,” Doob said. Yet, Doob credits Samuelson as “the coach that enabled me to find my own way to like swimming again.”
After Samuelson retired, Steve Kuster became Williams’ new head swimming coach. Though Kuster was unknown to most of the Ephs at the time, Doob was friends with the new coach from his days on the Harvard-coached club team.
“[Kuster] was at Harvard when I was swimming there all throughout high school,” Doob recalled, calling it a “stroke of luck” that they were reunited again.
“Steve came [to Williams], saw me out of shape and gave it to me straight,” Doob said. “I went to him, and we sat down and talked.”
Through Kuster’s coaching and Doob’s hard work, Doob has become one of the Eph leaders in recent years. Though he failed to qualify for Nationals in his first-year, Doob qualified for Nationals as a sophomore in the 1650-yard freestyle and provisionally qualified for Nationals in two other events. He qualified in three events last year.
Doob said that his reasons for swimming have changed over the years. “If you had asked me in high school, I would given an answer along the lines that I have been doing it for this long and I am better at this than I am at other sports,” he contended. “There wouldn’t have been a clear-cut answer, which is inevitably why I started to get burned out. I wasn’t doing it for any particular reason.”
However, his perspective and love for the sport has changed during his time at Williams.
“I now look at swimming more as what we do as a team than what you accomplish individually, which was really a change for me,” he said.
“Club teams place much more focus on the individual. Here it’s more about what the team can do. Being by yourself and going to NCAAs wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as going with a bunch of the guys you train with.”
One of the best parts about Williams swimming for Doob is the competitive nature of the meets.
“That’s the greatest part of swimming here â€“ how competitive it is,” he said. “Every time you go to a meet, especially at the end of the year, it makes it all worthwhile. Being here and being the best in New England as a team is probably what sold me on swimming again.”
According to Doob, the biggest challenge that he faced when joining the Williams team was understanding the intensity and competitiveness of an Amherst dual meet.
“You never understand before you get there what that meet is going to be like, when it comes down to the final relay or swimming faster than you ever thought you could,” he said. “My class is the first class in over 10 years to graduate without losing to Amherst.
“It’s not about everyone wanting to go their best time; it is about the group getting up and doing whatever it takes to do their best.”
While Doob enjoys the competition with arch-rivals such as Amherst and Middlebury, he also said that he loves the intensity of the big NESCAC Championship meets.
“At the men’s [NESCAC Championship] meet, there are at least four teams that all compete and that are all very close in every race. While we have won every year, it is never domination from start to finish. Every event typically has swimmers from each school that are very, very fast. The relays are never really decisive. They always come down to the last swimmer.”
Though Doob is co-captain of the men’s team and loves the sport, there are aspects of the pursuit that aren’t entirely his cup of tea. “Personally, I hate getting up in the morning, going to breakfast and jumping into ice cold water,” Doob admitted. “In fact, many times, I’ll be one of the people who complains by the side of the pool that I don’t want to get in the water and that it’s too cold.”
But, as a captain, Doob says that he is now one of the first to dive in â€“ whether he likes it or not â€“ since he must set an example for his team. “The team is made up of such a broad spectrum of talent and backgrounds,” he said. “You couldn’t ask for a better group of guys.”
Throughout his Williams career, Doob has been greatly influenced by Kuster and teammates Jeff McBride ’02 and Cyrus King ’00.
“Steve, by far, has been the influence on my swimming,” Doob said. “I can’t even say I would still be swimming if Steve hadn’t joined the program. He definitely has instilled within both the team and me the right ideas and priorities.
“While he isn’t the drill sergeant that you would expect from a Div. I caliber athlete-turned-coach, he has learned in the three years he has been here to run this program exactly as it should be run in terms of keeping the priorities straight. He gets the best performances out of what he has to work with, given that we are a Div. III school.”
Over the years, Doob says that he has been exposed to many different coaches and coaching styles. However, he said that, “Steve’s coaching has been the best way for me to end
my swimming career.”
Doob also credits classmate and teammate McBride for greatly influencing him as well.
“Jeff and I are best friends,” Doob said. “But we have gone back and forth [competing] every year we have been here. Without that camaraderie and competition, it would be a whole new ball game since the drive to be better is pretty much governed by whom you have to compete with. Jeff has been there the entire time.”
In last year’s NESCAC Championship, McBride won the 1650-yard freestyle events with a time of 15:44.16 â€“ just three hundredths of a second before Doob hit the wall.
“Jeff beating me by three-hundredths of a second was hard to swallow,” Doob said. “However, losing to him by that margin is infinitely better than going slower and winning without him there.”
Doob said that if either he or McBride did not swim that event, the other would have swum five to ten seconds slower as the drive of competition would not have been there.
When Doob visited Williams as a recruit, he stayed with King, and his relationship with and admiration for King influenced his whole Williams athletic career.
“King is probably one of the most decorated swimmers in recent Williams history,” Doob said. “He got fired up about everything and he was always very serious about swimming. You could rely on him when you needed someone to get up and do anything. He would get it and find a way to do anything.”
When it was their turn to lead the team, Doob and McBride tried to continue this mentality of dedication and teamwork and pass it on to future generations of Williams swimmers.
“Hopefully the guys that will still be here next year will take what Jeff and I have done, and what Steve is still doing and continue it,” he said.
Though Doob has been swimming competitively for 14 years, his days of training hard and preparing for the next big meet are numbered. “As a swimmer, assuming I do as well as I want to do in the coming weeks, I could still train,” Doob said. “However, once being on this team and being a part of this tradition is taken away, my desire to swim competitively fades quickly.”