One in 2000: Eric Liao ’14

As a first-year, I recognize most of the Junior Advisors (JAs) around campus. When I saw a Frosh Quad JA at a swim meet, I couldn’t help but notice that he was one swimmer that was not like the rest. I sat down with Eric Liao ’14 the other day to learn a little more about his eccentric life as a half-naked singing and swimming sensation.

On your Facebook page it says that you’re from Alabama, but I thought you were from California. Would you mind explaining that?

My parents are from Taiwan and my dad is the oldest of that family. So they decided to move to the U.S. to find better jobs and to hopefully give their children better jobs. My dad had the option of going to Auburn or USC and he chose Auburn and that’s how I was born in Alabama. I lived there for three years and then I moved to California.

So you don’t remember your time in Alabama?

No, I do. I remember when I almost burned the whole house down. [Laughs.] I was playing with a golf set and [hitting] these plastic golf balls all over the place and I hit one really hard and it disappeared … so I just left it alone because I didn’t know where it went. But what happened was that I had hit it up into a lamp. And this was like a plastic golf ball, right, so later it started flaming and my dad had to rush out and save the day.

So apparently golfing wasn’t in your future. But when did you start swimming?

I was actually afraid of the water the first couple times. My mom would force me to go to these summer camps that did swimming and such, and I would always stay out on the side and watch everybody else swim, hoping that [their ability to swim] might just transfer to me.

How did you get over your fear of the water? I mean I assume you got over it, right?

Yeah, so one summer my dad just sort of, I wouldn’t say pushed me in, but sort of forced me to join a club team.

So I’ve gotten some requests to ask you this question. The people of Williams are curious: Why do you wear your speedo so that half of your butt is showing?

Well, I’m very flattered that they focus on my butt. But honestly I have to say that that’s just the way that I’ve worn my suit since I was 12 or 13. That’s just the West Coast way of wearing things. It’s a little bit more relaxed. It’s also a two in one: if I win, I also look good while I win. [Laughs.] I’ve thought this out a lot.

Do you have any special rituals before you swim? Besides pulling your speedo halfway down, of course.

So one of the first races that I ever had was my 200 IM. And this was when I was 11 or 12, so I was still getting used to this whole racing thing. When I dove in, my goggles started filling up with water. I think this is the first and last time that I ever did this, but I stopped at the wall during the race, emptied out my goggles and put them back on and they started leaking again. So I got to the other wall, emptied them out and put them back on. And I did that for all four laps. My coach was so mad at me and I was so mad at myself too. So I guess a ritual is that I always leave my goggles off until the very last second.

So obviously swimming is a huge part of your life. Some people might even call you a swimmer dude.

[Laughs.] I knew this was going to go there. I knew it.

So why don’t you tell me a little bit about your swimmerdude945 account on YouTube?

Why did I agree to this? Damn it. Okay. My junior year of [high school], I had a really inspiring U.S. history teacher. I already really liked playing music, and he kind of built up my confidence. And for our final project you could do whatever you want, so I was like “Oh, I’ll recreate a song from each period in history.” So I did the Beatles and then as we progressed, I got to Coldplay. So I played and sang all of it, and I thought, “Maybe I sound okay, halfway decent.” Not knowing the full consequences of what would happen, I put it online.

So you’re a JA and I know your first-years found out about swimmerdude945. Were you embarrassed?

Yes. It’s like one of those deep dark secrets that they [my first-years] are not supposed to find out until the end of the year. But Doug Wassarman [’16] heard me say something about it, and him being the super proactive freshman that he is did a little YouTube search and found it.

But do you regret making the swimmerdude945 account?

I don’t know. It’s hard because I do kind of want to delete it but it’s part of my life. So I would say that I don’t regret it. I’ll just take all the heat now and who knows maybe swimmerdude945 will be famous one day.

Besides it being embarrassing sometimes, how have you liked being a JA?

It’s nice because it gives me a chance to reincarnate myself as a first-year. It gives me a sad excuse to go to Goodrich [on weekends] and live vicariously through them. I’m glad that I can be part of that and hopefully make their experience better.

So I happen to know that at one point in your life, one of your goals was to make the entire world laugh in unison.

You’re uncovering all of my secrets. I guess I think that people could just use a laugh once in a while. And I think that if everybody could laugh at the same time it would relieve a lot of stress. Make the whole world a better place. Now to make them laugh at the same time, it’d be hard. Because I think that people react to different things. And I’ve tried a lot of things. I try to wear my suit down so people laugh. It gets some people.

Yeah, but that’s not going to get the whole world unless it’s at something like the Olympics.

So yeah, I’m thinking of streaking the Olympics. And everyone will be like “Who is that idiot running around?” And I’ll just get tackled. And I also plan to have some sort of body paint on me with some hilarious message. So maybe the security guards would even stop before they tackle me to the ground. That’s my plan: I’m going to streak the Olympics. I’m very erratic.

What’s an erratic thing you’ve done here at Williams?

I’ve taken my clothes off in Goodrich. I was on stage for my singer/songwriter Winter Study class. I wrote a song about how I wanted to still be young. Because I was 19, and once you get past 19 you start turning old, I felt like I had to enjoy it a little bit. So I pulled out the YOLO card and I got on stage and started talking about my song a little bit. And as I kept talking, I started to undo my tie, started taking off my shirt and went just up to the point where I had a speedo on. So I went on playing a song in just a speedo and my tie. And when I was done … I guess the teacher wasn’t too happy with me.

You were wearing a speedo under your clothes?

I thought a speedo was more appropriate than boxers.