John Soeder ’24 is a sophomore, a swimmer and a new school record holder. The second swimmer to receive Polar Bear of the Week honors this semester, Soeder was a part of the 200-meter freestyle relay team that broke the school record time and finished third in the meet with a time of 1:21.79. He also broke the school record in the 50-meter butterfly with a time of 22.14, as the men’s swimming and diving team finished sixth overall at the meet.
Soeder said he was proud of his individual record, but it is his accomplishments in the relay that he values the most.
“We have a common goal and we get to celebrate together,” Soeder said. “Relays speak to the strength of the team, not just one person. Four guys com[ing] together to swim faster than anyone in Bowdoin history is pretty special … it really is a team sport, and it showed this weekend.”
The emphasis on teamwork and team culture was palpable in Soeder’s thoughts on the weekend, as he continued stressing the importance of team culture.
“Maintaining that [team camaraderie] in the future and next year … will mean that some of that responsibility will be on me and keeping that momentum going,” Soeder said.
Soeder did not expect to break the 50-meter butterfly record. He had never swam butterfly competitively before college, and his swimming career had a tumultuous two years due to Covid-19. His senior state championship meet occurred two weeks before the pandemic shut down pools for months. Soeder was unable to swim until he arrived at Bowdoin as a first-year in 2020.
Despite being on campus, practices were not high-volume and consisted of only fellow first years. In the fall of 2020, both swimmers and coaches knew they would not be able to truly compete until this recent season, a year and a half later. Following the 2020 fall season, Soeder took more time off from swimming after his first semester at Bowdoin. He only got back into competitive training this past fall.
“It was a bit of a rough start,” Soeder said. “That stretch from December—when we left—to August when we came back was the longest I had been [away from] swimming since I started [swimming competitively]. It was frustrating at the beginning because I was not swimming well. I swam times that I swam as a sophomore in high school.”
The progress Soeder made—from a rocky start to a school-record—is impressive enough, but the ultra-competitive nature of NESCAC swimming this year underscores Soeder’s stand-out achievements. Swimmers from this year’s NESCAC Championships clocked times that would have earned second or third place in 2019 but finished 11th and 12th this weekend.
“The conference is getting really good, really quick. It’s a great time to be in the NESCAC,” Soeder said. “It’s arguably the most [competitive] conference in DIII swimming right now.”
Soeder’s record-breaking relay team is NCAA Championships bound. Both the men’s and women’s swim teams are projected to send six to ten swimmers to NCAAs, depending on qualifying results—something Soeder is excited about.
“It’s going to be a blast,” Soeder said.