Swimmer Will Freeman hitting his stride in third year at Alabama

Swimmer Will Freeman hitting his stride in third year at Alabama
Photo courtesy of Amelia B. Barton

If patience were worth its weight in gold, then senior swimmer Will Freeman would be a wealthy man. After struggling with inconsistent results in the pool during his first two seasons at Alabama, Freeman’s patience paid off and his swimming career began to flourish. Now, Freeman is chasing down one of the most ambitious Alabama swimming records in the book.

Having enjoyed an illustrious swimming career at Spain Park High School in Birmingham, Alabama, Freeman was recruited by multiple schools besides Alabama, including in-state rival Auburn and Ivy League schools Harvard and Princeton. Freeman eventually chose Alabama because he was attracted to its balance of academics and athletics. Another aspect that drew Freeman to Alabama was the opportunity to play a critical role in a rebuilding process.

“This team really seemed like it was turning around right at the time I made my decision,” Freeman said. “When I came here they brought on all the new coaching staff and they had just finished their first season. It was kind of a leap of faith. Being a part of the rebuild has been a dream come true.”

When Freeman began his career at Alabama, his main events were the mile and 500 freestyle. He also competed in the 200 butterfly, but it had been more of an afterthought than a main focus. That changed once he began working with Crimson Tide coaches James Barber and Angie Nicolletta. With their support and coaching, Freeman applied himself to improving his time in the 200 butterfly, which is traditionally viewed as one of the most challenging events in swimming.

Freeman quickly developed the reputation of a tireless worker, always trying to hone his craft. His commitment to improving as a swimmer helped him earn the Tide’s Most Dedicated Award at the conclusion of his sophomore campaign.

“Definitely one of the hardest workers on the team,” Head Coach Dennis Pursley said. “He comes in and does his job and applies himself to the best of his ability every day.”

Despite all of Freeman’s hard work, he was not seeing it translate to consistent results in competitions.

“I would say that, my first two years it was a hard experience because I didn’t see a whole lot of success from the work that I put in,” Freeman said. “I dropped some time here and there, but it really seemed random and inconsistent.”

And then, a turning point came: the 2016 Olympic trials in Omaha, Nebraska. The Olympic trials were not a decisive moment for Freeman because of his performance, but rather the mindset that he developed from his experience. No longer would be let himself get frustrated by his results, he would continue to be laser focused on the preparation.

“My biggest takeaway was that I don’t really let the performance dictate how I feel about the work I’ve put in,” Freeman said. “If it’s a good performance, then great, but that’s only for the instant. You can’t get complacent with a good performance in the same way that you can’t get too downtrodden with a bad one. I kind of like to stay at a healthy neutral.”

Since adopting that attitude, Freeman has found consistent success in all his events, but especially in the 200 butterfly. At the Bulldog Invitational swim meet his junior season, Freeman clocked a speedy 1:43.89 in the 200 butterfly, the fastest time for an American swimmer in Alabama school history, and the fourth fastest time overall. The record for fastest 200 butterfly by an Alabama swimmer is 1:42.35 set by Stefan Gherghel in 2003. Only about a second and a half behind that record, Freeman has his sights set on breaking it this year.

“I’d like to break the record,” Freeman said. “I think the Alabama school record is within the realm of possibilities. With a better start and some turn improvement I think I can do a little better and shave off that time.”

Pursley certainly agrees that the record is within Freeman’s grasp.

“It’s a very challenging record,” Pursley said. “It’s within reach and there’s no guarantees, but he’s going to put himself in the best possible position to reach that goal.”

As for the 2020 Olympic Trials, you will not see Will Freeman competing. Once he graduates from Alabama with a degree in chemical engineering next August, Freeman plans on following his passion for public health by applying to medical school. He discovered his desire to pursue medicine through his volunteer work at the Good Samaritan Clinic in Northport, Alabama, which provides free health services to people who would not be able to afford it otherwise. Navigating medical school is a daunting task and it will require hard work, dedication and patience; in other words, Will Freeman will be operating in his comfort zone.

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