Helen Newton ’14 is the fastest breaststroke swimmer in Bowdoin history, at least according to the record books, where her name sits atop lists for the 50, 100 and 200-meter races. Each record fell at the women’s NESCAC Championship last weekend, Newton’s last collegiate race. She had broken them unofficially as part of the 400-meter medley and 200 medley relay teams, which also broke school records, but had to wait to replicate her finishes in the individual events. When she did, she held the records by a couple of seconds and had beaten her personal best by nearly three seconds in her main event, the 100m.
Newton began swimming around age three and remembers learning the frog kick technique even at that point. She specialized in the breaststroke all through high school and spent most of her offseason time on lacrosse. The prospect of playing lacrosse brought her to Bowdoin, where she met current teammate and breaststroke swimmer, Maeve O’Leary ’14, who convinced her to consider joining Bowdoin swimming. Left without a major commitment until lacrosse started practicing, Newton ultimately found her way to the pool, though she did not introduce herself to Head Coach Brad Burnham until late October that year.
“She had a good pull and a good kick,” he said. “It seemed that she was lacking experience more than anything.”
“Most of [the swim team] swam all through our childhood, 11 months of the year,” O’Leary said. “She didn’t have that background.”
When Newton did approach Burnham, she remembers him telling her that the team had to like her as much as she liked them. That did not turn out to be a problem. Newton finished her senior season as the sole captain of the women’s team, a rare occurrence, as the team has had at least two in previous years. By many accounts, she brought enthusiasm to the team.
“She’s been a role model, at least to me,” said Patty Boyer ’15. “And especially to the underclassmen who came from swim clubs. They’re very individualized. You only care about what you’re swimming.”
Newton’s swims in her first year were not particularly inspiring. She admits to being overwhelmed by both her first year of college and collegiate swimming, particularly at NESCACs, where the number of swimmers and talent left her wondering if she belonged.
“I didn’t really grasp the commitment,” she said. “All the swimming I would be doing, coming back early…I remember telling my parents I would be home for five days over Christmas break.”
Burnham mentioned that Newton used to tire out during races. O’Leary believes the endurance she gained by swimming more often allowed her to catch up with the other swimmers. By the time they reached their senior year, O’Leary noted that Newton was never at a loss for energy.
“After doing these crazy runs, I would go collapse on my bed and she would go to the pool.” said O’Leary, referring to the training for the marathon the pair ran last October.
She also said that Newton started her senior season in the best shape of her career.
For her last race, she returned to Williams for NESCACs, and announced before racing that she intended to break Bowdoin’s 100m record.
“Her internal competitiveness is not always expressed, but it’s there,” Boyer said. “Anything she puts her mind to, she can do.”
Burnham encourages his swimmers to swim as many events as they can, because by designating certain events as an exhibition, they can test themselves without worrying about scoring points. Newton mentioned that she and O’Leary failed to designate their 50-meter, so they were forced to score on it instead of one of the 100 and 200-meter. She believed that her anger over failing to designate her race, combined with the emotion of her last race, gave her the inspiration to finish as well as she did. O’Leary even joked that Newton cried after her races, which she says she herself never does.
While unwilling to admit to crying, Newton said she was indeed very emotional after the races ended.
“I didn’t think about my high school experience this way,” she said. “It made me realize how much these last four years have meant.”
The sports editor of the Orient chooses the Athlete of the Week based on exemplary performance.