March 27, 2014
By Pete LaFleur
There’s an old saying that goes: "The shortest distance between any two points is a straight line."
That certainly would seem to hold true within the world of competitive swimming, where even one-hundredth of a second can be the difference between winning and settling for second place.
For University of Notre Dame swimming All-American Frank Dyer, pursuing the perfect race, the quickest and straightest line, has been his quest for nearly 20 years. Known since a five-year-old for his effortless, seemingly perfect freestyle stroke, the current Irish senior always has looked for that clear and quick path toward success.
Yet, sometimes, life throws you a curve. Sometimes, the process goes sideways, or even backwards, before it can continue onward to the ultimate destination.
For Dyer, his life--both in the pool, and without--has encountered two such diversions, interestingly one in the middle of his high school career and one midway through his four years at Notre Dame. Ultimately, the 6-foot-5 standout came out on the other side, better served from the lessons and maturity gained along the way. His six individual Notre Dame school records are three more than any other swimmer in Irish history.
Dyer and seven of his Notre Dame teammates are competing in various events at the NCAA Championships March 27-29 in Austin, Texas. It will be the final chapter in Dyer's Notre Dame career, but it also will signal the beginning of another. In a few short months, Dyer will be moving to Maryland to begin training at the elite North Baltimore Aquatic Club (NBAC), where he will be tutored by legendary coach Bob Bowman (and perhaps even, sometimes, by Bowman's star pupil, Michael Phelps). The goal while at the NBAC will be an obvious one: qualifying for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a potential accomplishment that would only further Dyer's status as the greatest men's swimmer in Notre Dame history.
Dyer's journey to the proximity of Olympic qualification has included a couple rough spots, but it is that journey--not the records and medals--that ultimately will serve him in this unique quest for the ultimate experience in any swimmer's life.
Major Life Lesson #1
Frank Dyer Jr.--known as "Frankie"--grew up in Loudonville, N.Y., a suburb of state capital Albany. His father Frank Sr., a Loudonville native and a local sports hero, starred with the hometown Siena College basketball team. Frankie and sister Margaret, 15 months his senior, thrived while competing in various sports and other activities during their youth. Frankie loved his life in Loudonville. There was no place he'd rather have been during those formative teenage years.
At the end of Dyer's sophomore year at Shaker High School, in the early summer of 2008, the Dyer family endured a significant change from the norm. Margaret headed off to Loyola University in Baltimore, but that was natural and expected. The more drastic change came when Frank Sr. informed his son the two of them would be moving to Cincinnati, while Mary would be remaining in Loudonville to arrange the sale of the family home. Frankie’s father had accepted a new position in the financial profession in Cincinnati, so father and son headed out on their own, unsure of what the future would hold.
"That news was crippling for me, because my sophomore year was a breakout for me swimming-wise and socially," says Frankie, who ended up enrolling at St. Xavier High School. "From the start, I hated everything about the experience in Cincinnati. The work was hard, my teachers were different and I basically felt like I went to college two years early and my dad was my roommate."
The culture at St. Xavier, an all-boys private school, is akin to a "mini-Notre Dame campus," notes Mary Dyer. Crowds for St. X home football games often number nearly 10,000 fans. The school's swimming team annually is crowned the mythical national champion. Entrance requirements, particularly for transfer students, are strict, even requiring personal references. "It wasn't like you fit in immediately at St. Xavier, although Frankie did make a quick bond with the swimmers on the team," adds Mary.
Compounding the family’s separation anxiety--for Frank, Mary and Frankie--was the national financial crisis that hit shortly after the Dyer home went on the market. It was a time of great stress and loneliness, for all concerned.
One bright spot fittingly emerged within the pool, where Frankie was gaining valuable experience while swimming with both the high school team and the Cincinnati Marlins club program. "I was swimming all the time, three times a week in the morning, six times per week in the afternoons," says Frankie. "Plus, there were some of the hardest dry-land sets I have done to this day."
Ultimately, the Dyer family concluded that the entire Cincinnati venture had not worked out. After only three months in the new city, in November 2008, the decision was made to return home to Loudonville. Frank Sr. resigned on a Monday, while his son informed St. Xavier he was leaving. The duo returned home the very next day, and by the end of the week Frankie had settled back in at Shaker High School.
Frankie's love for singing became a trademark of his daily life around the Dyer household. After the move to Cincinnati, Frank Sr. noticed a clear void: his son had stopped singing, entirely. Roughly three months later, on the very day that they returned to Loudonville, things symbolically were back to normal, at least from a musical sense.
"My husband and I were talking in the kitchen after they returned, and he told me to be quiet and listen," says Mary Dyer. "He said, 'Do you hear that, Frankie is singing again.' It was virtually instantaneous. He was back where he belonged."
Of course, changes, even drastic ones, are a part of life that everyone must deal with--and the passage of time has helped put the Cincinnati experience into its proper perspective. "It was only three months of my life, but I know that I grew from it and it made a major difference in my life," says Frankie. "I saw how long my dad was away from my mom and how that hurt him. I also saw how hard he worked for us and wanted so badly for that to be the right move for us. It just simply wasn't."
For Mary Dyer, those three months away from her son were a precursor to the inevitable: Frankie soon would be moving on, as it was, pursuing his own adult life.
"Frankie really had to grow up quickly when he moved to Cincinnati--it was only a couple months, but it seemed like an eternity," says Mary. "But after Frankie returned home, he didn’t take anything for granted after that. He appreciated everything and everyone around him. It made him a better person. It made all of us appreciate one another.
"Life would be very different today if we had moved to Cincinnati."
Bringing Back the ‘Old Frank’
After flourishing in the pool in his final two years back in Loudonville, Dyer headed off to Notre Dame in the fall of 2010 and became the first freshman in Irish men's swimming history to qualify for the NCAA Championships. One year later, he posted the nation's third-best qualifying time for the NCAA 200-yard freestyle, earned the No. 2 seed after the preliminaries and ultimately finished fourth--procuring a rare All-America (top eight) finish, while also competing in the NCAA 50-, 100- and 500-yard freestyle races. That summer, at the 2012 United States Olympic Trials, Dyer placed 13th in the 400-meter freestyle (3:52.74).
After an accomplished two-year debut in collegiate swimming, Dyer naturally assumed that success would continue to come easily during his junior season. It didn't.
"I let my accolades go to my head a little during that junior season, and I wasn’t the swimmer I was before," says Dyer. "I hated getting up for practice and really challenged everything we were doing in the weight room. I started dipping out of sets and wouldn’t do all that was required."
Following the conclusion of that 2013 season, Irish coach Tim Welsh informed Dyer that he wanted to meet with him. The swimmer detected an odd vibe from his Notre Dame coach, but he was unsure what to expect when they finally met.
"Coach Welsh asked me flat-out why I hated swimming. He referred to my freshman and sophomore years as the ‘old Frank’ or the ‘happy Frank,’ It sounds foolish, but I was so used to that early success that I expected it my junior year, and it simply didn’t happen," says Dyer.
"He (Welsh) had recognized this problem all year long, and I only recognized it at the end. At that time, I had no plans to continue swimming after college. But he wanted me to have the best senior year possible and it would have to begin with falling back in love with the sport."
In order to achieve that goal, Dyer remained on campus during the summer of 2013. He began a rigorous training schedule while also meeting periodically with Welsh. "We discussed the fact that one of the best assets of ‘old Frank’ was that I had the energy to be positive, even when things were hard," says Dyer. In order to rediscover that optimistic feeling, Dyer made sure he was happy when waking every morning to train and "wasn’t just doing it because I had to." He simply "got back to swimming with a purpose."
Dyer's 2013 summer included a series of strong swims at the U.S. Open meet. He was content and excited about Notre Dame's upcoming season. "Normally by that point of the year, I wanted to take a three-week break to clear my mind, but I was ready to get back in the water," adds Dyer.
The reinvigorated Dyer truly had found the "real” Frank again. Welsh had identified "overthinking" as being one cause that led to Dyer losing touch with his core self. "Before that turnaround in the summer of 2013, Frank had lost some of his spontaneity, and because of that his joy suffered. And, consequently, his performance dropped off as well," says the Irish head coach.
Dyer's resulting final season with the Irish has been one characterized by greater focus and consistency--plus plenty of school-record performances. And he certainly has his head coach to thank for the much-needed transformation. "He (Welsh) is a very sincere and genuine coach who cares about each individual and about the journey that they have been on throughout their years at Notre Dame," says Dyer. "I'm glad that he was around to remind me how important I was to the program."
Exactly how important has Dyer been to the Notre Dame program? No other swimmer in the program's history comes close to approaching his six different individual Notre Dame records, including five different freestyle events--the 50 (19.57), 100 (42.84), 200 (1:33.20), 500 (4:17.49) and 1,000 (9:11.93)--along with the 100 butterfly (46.92) and as part of four different record-setting relay teams.
The Power of Positivity
In many ways, Welsh is just as much of a counselor and wise professor as he is a tactician or training director. Head coach-in-waiting Matt Tallman oversees more of those nuts-and-bolts aspects for the coaching staff, but Welsh's impact remains just as important. The example of the "Old Frank vs. New Frank" conundrum is a perfect example of how Welsh was able to diagnose and reverse a potential dangerous trend for his elite swimmer, and Welsh provided even more valuable introspection as to what makes Dyer tick.
This key concept revolves around "positivity," one of Dyer's favorite words, yet clearly a trait that had temporarily left him during that turbulent middle portion of his college career. Nowadays, positive ions are oozing out of everything that Dyer does.
"Frank brings a positive outlook to the pool every day. He looks for a positive atmosphere around him. He encourages a positive atmosphere in his teammates, and in his coaches," says Welsh.
"But it also should be noted that positivity is no substitute for hard work. Frank's habit is to take the lead in every challenging swimming exercise. The rest of the team doesn’t just follow--they race to catch up, keep up, and take the lead when they can. Frank loves and encourages this kind of racing in practices on a daily basis. He approaches his hard work with a positive attitude and expects a lot from himself. He encourages high expectations and high performance from his teammates, and he trusts his coaches. And there's no trash talk--that is not Frank’s style. It's all about positive talk, positive action and positive results."
Welsh's use of the "p word"—positivity--reflects, essentially, what it's all about: consistency, and reliability. In fact, the veteran coach has identified what he calls a "happiness prescription," when positive science (i.e., swimming technique and regimen) meets positive psychology (in areas such as leadership, mental toughness, etc.). "That prescription results in positivity, and that quite simply is Frank's style," says Welsh.
"Frank doesn’t think through this stuff rationally and philosophically. He does these things, and acts this way naturally, because that is who he is."
The link between emotional wellbeing and athletic performance can be a tricky one, but it should never be underestimated, suggests Welsh. A positive emotion clearly has a direct physical component, which in turn leads to positive physical results. "Franks brings this entire package to the pool with him every day, and he leaves his work in the pool when he goes," says the 29-year Irish head coach.
"Frank brings it, he does it, he lets it go, and he comes back tomorrow and does it again. This humble, healthy, confident attitude makes him a very likable role model for us all to emulate. That is easy to say, but it is not easy to do. But that is one of the central reasons why Frank has had such a major and lasting impact on our team."
A Balanced Childhood
Frank Dyer started walking when he was 10 months old, shortly thereafter began climbing the jungle gym and began swimming before age two. As a five-year-old swimming in early races at Wolfert's Roost Country Club, the youngster already had made a splash. Club members were surprised by how fast the young swimmer was, and he rarely lost. Dyer also spent seven years training and competing with a local club, the Starfish Swim Team.
Unlike many of his peers, Dyer avoided an early one-sport focus on swimming. As a child, he simply did not swim round the clock—in fact, far from it, instead preferring to sprinkle in seasonal sports such as basketball, soccer, skiing and even lacrosse. Outside of sports, there were plenty of other activities Dyer pursued at St. Pius X School and later during his early teens: theater, singing and serving four years in student government at Shaker High School as vice president of his class. Coaches and other parents often would recommend to the Dyers that their son should be turning his full attention to the pool. But Frankie had his own agenda, his own plan.
"Soccer and basketball practices were once a week, sometimes during the same week, and of course there also were the games--so, many times I just wouldn’t go to swimming," says Dyer. "If I went to one basketball and one soccer practice a week, and then went to three swim practices, I rationalized that I was essentially putting more effort into swimming.
"My parents never pushed me to be any type of athlete I didn’t want to be. If I had been forced to do one thing, I would have quit everything. Because I was able to spread out and do other sports, I think that is a big reason why I have peaked in college. I have seen so many swimmers peak in high school and I didn’t want that to happen to me. I attribute the reason I am here peaking in college is because I had such a lax childhood when it came to practicing. Not to say that I wasn’t focused--I was extremely dedicated to my summer league swimming, when that was the only thing going on."
Mary Dyer was happy to see her son being so well-rounded, because "it kept him balanced and happy--he had another outlet other than just swimming." Even years later, when he was at Notre Dame, Frankie often would delay telling his parents about his latest extra-curricular endeavors. "He usually would let you know after the fact that he tried out for something or was involved in a club," says Mary. "He knew we would say that it would interfere with swimming.”
Both Dyer parents competed in collegiate sports. Frank Sr. had been a basketball player at the hometown school in Loudonville, Siena College, where he is considered among the program's legendary players. The elder Dyer--who grew up in Loudonville and graduated from Christian Brothers Academy--was one of the senior leaders on Siena's first team that competed at the Division I level (1976-77). He returned to his alma mater in 1980, serving five years as an assistant coach with the Saints’ basketball team. Years later his coaching career added a bonus layer when he served as Frankie's youth basketball coach.
Similar to her son, Mary Dyer began swimming at an early age and was proficient in everything but the breaststroke ("We Dyers, including Frankie, simply are not good breaststrokers," she says). The former Mary Bronson swam as a freshman at Potsdam State, near her hometown of Canton, N.Y., before transferring to Siena, where she met her future husband Frank.
A brief summary of Frankie Dyer's childhood would not be complete without appropriate mention of his lone sibling Margaret, a recent graduate of Loyola University in Maryland. Margaret and Frankie were the proverbial "two peas in a pod" during their youth – whether it be playing in the family pool or conducting elaborate dress-up plays and singing competitions. They were great companions who simply loved hanging out together.
"I was always the one who wanted to get into acting, but Frankie would end up stealing the show," says Margaret, who stopped swimming in high school due to a shoulder injury. "We were spirited kids, that's for sure. My mom even had a rule: no singing at the dinner table. Frankie did a singing competition in elementary school called 'Capital Region Idol' and he sang 'Heard it Through the Grapevine.' It was funny to see a skinny redhead kid with such a strong voice."
“Notre Dame and East”
Dyer’s first glimpse at big-time college swimming came during the summer after his freshman year in high school, when he joined a Shaker High School teammate in attending the Stanford swim camp. Many collegiate swimming camps are yardage-based, “where you go to get drilled into the ground for a week of agonizing practices,” says Dyer. But Stanford’s camp, similar to those held at Notre Dame, focuses more on technique.
“Attending a camp like Stanford’s was something that I really wanted and needed. I truly believe that trip changed my swimming life,” says Dyer, who at the time was primarily a 100-yard backstroker but was an emerging talent in the mid-distance freestyle events.
During one special day at the camp, Dyer and the other (relatively) young swimmers had the chance to visit with some members of the Stanford varsity squad. The previous spring, Dyer had turned heads back home when he posted a 1:47 in the 200 freestyle. He naturally was curious how that would stack up with a current collegian on the Stanford squad.
“One of the Stanford swimmers told me he had gone 1:35 in the 200--man, that was so fast to me at that time,” says Dyer. “But now, seven years later, my own best time is a 1:33. I was so motivated after that camp at Stanford. I knew I was going to swim in college--it was not a matter of if I would, but where.”
One year later, high school teammate Brian Maloy--two years older than Dyer--headed off to Notre Dame in the fall of 2008. Stretching back to when he was a five-year old, Dyer had been a rival or teammate of Maloy’s. As fate would have it, they were destined to reunite at Notre Dame a couple years later.
Dyer literally drew a line of demarcation--“Notre Dame and east”--as to schools that he would consider for his own college destination. Programs such as Duke, Maryland and Penn State were among those he strongly considered. Dyer readily concedes that he needed to improve his SAT test scores at that time if he wanted to be a serious scholarship candidate at schools such as Duke or Notre Dame.
A great campus visit to Duke initially had Dyer leaning towards the Durham, N.C., school--but the hoped-for improvement on the SATs brought Notre Dame back into the picture. Current associate head coach Tallman made the call, hoping that another Loudonville swimmer might be interested in swimming for the Irish.
It was Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, mid-January of 2010, when Dyer made that trek to Notre Dame. He was set on attending Duke—yet he wasn’t going to turn down the offer to see what Welsh, Tallman and the Irish program had to offer. Maloy naturally was Dyer's host for the weekend, while then-senior Pat Lloyd served as campus tour guide for the promising recruit. Dyer whipped around campus in a golf cart along with Tallman and Lloyd. You hear the refrain often that something just "clicked" or how certain recruits mysteriously come to "know" that Notre Dame is the place for them. Dyer had just such an experience during his campus visit.
Mary Dyer remarked several times that her son was not a great talker and "sharer of information." Along those lines, it appears the exact details of how and when Frankie decided to sign with Notre Dame differ, depending on who is telling the story.
As Frankie remembers it, he made the decision on that Sunday on his way home, while waiting at the South Bend airport, that he would attend Notre Dame. He even bought a Notre Dame hat at the airport gift shop--"my decision was made," he says now--and was excited to be joining the Irish, with the bonus of reuniting with his longtime swimming pal Maloy.
Dyer did not inform Notre Dame of his decision immediately, and Welsh called the family home the very next day. Frankie took the call upstairs, with his anxious parents (unaware of his already-made decision) waiting below. He then came down, finally filling them in that he, in fact, planned to sign with Notre Dame.
Welsh had watched Frankie compete at USA Swimming’s Junior National Meet, held at Ohio State during Dyer’s senior year. It took less than one race for the Notre Dame coach to know he was watching a special talent.
"We definitely saw the physical skills, the technique and the racing style in Frank that forecast the possibility of great improvement in college," says Welsh. "We thought, hoped, trusted that Notre Dame and Frank would be a good fit for one another."
When it came time to head off to Notre Dame, Dyer already had earned prep All-America honors in the 50, 100, 200 and 500 freestyle, highlighted by winning the New York state title in both the 200 and 500. Of course, the question remained: Would he be able to fully make that transition, and become an All-American on the collegiate level?
Elevating in the Wake of Greatness
Welsh--who is set to retire after 29 years directing the Notre Dame men's swimming program (including 10 seasons from 1985-95 also directing the Irish women's team)--doesn't mince words when assessing Dyer's impact and place in the history of Notre Dame swimming.
"Frank Dyer has been both the face and the force behind the paradigm shift and transformation that has taken place within Notre Dame men’s swimming during his four years," says Welsh. "With Frank as a living, breathing, daily swimming example of the improvement and achievement that is possible in our pool and within our program, the 'supporting cast' comprised of his fellow teammates has grown, improved, and transformed itself also into NCAA qualifiers and point scorers.
"Along the way, the team’s mindset has changed. National-level performance is no longer what other people do--it is now what we do also. Our confidence and work ethic have grown, and our performance has improved. Our paradigm has shifted to a team that achieves national-level performance."
Current Notre Dame co-captain and Dyer's roommate, Colin Babcock, has firsthand experience of this transformation over the past four years. In essence, he is one of the many teammates who have been lifted up within the wake of Dyer’s swimming excellence.
"When I came in to school, I had the conference championship as my ultimate end goal. But after Frank qualified for NCAAs, it re-set the bar, completely morphing my outlook and goal potential because I had been thinking too small," says Babcock. "Frank was able to compete at the NCAAs, why couldn't we? We have completely changed our school record board a few times in my four years. Because of the standard Frank established four years ago, I am happy to say I will end my swimming career at the NCAA Championship meet."
Adds Welsh: "Frank not only 'walks the talk' himself, he encourages and supports his teammates to walk the talk also."
Inside the Excellence
For those outside the inner workings of the competitive swimming subculture, the natural question arises when evaluating an elite talent: "What exactly makes this individual such a dominating force in the water?"
So, what, you may wonder, are Frank Dyer's secrets to his success?
For starters, even from a young age, the Dyer family repeatedly would hear from observers how they "loved to see Frankie swim." Not only did the youngster swim fast, but also he was doing it "the right way" with a seemingly perfect, effortless freestyle technique that has only ripened like a fine wine over the past few years.
"I never had the perfect shot in basketball and no one ever told me I had the perfect sound in my voice, but I always understood and appreciated the fact that I made it look so easy and beautiful in the water," says the Irish freestyler. "I guess that's what made me want to get better, because I had that quality and wanted to improve on it."
As a freshman at Notre Dame, Dyer's primary race was the 500 freestyle, but he began dropping so much time from his personal bests that it became apparent that the 200 was the distance best-suited for the future All-American. "The 200 is the best combination of all the freestyle events--it perfectly situates itself as neither a sprint nor a distance event," says Dyer. "It's just long enough to have a strategy, but not so long that I am overthinking that strategy. Coach Welsh says that I like to lead the whole way, which is true. I do like to lead."
Notre Dame junior co-captain and freestyler Patrick Murphy has labeled Dyer's start as "the best I've ever seen; I've never seen him not be first at the beginning of a race."
Dyer's versatility, Murphy adds, also places him in rarified water: "Frank is such a unique swimmer because he can compete with national-level swimmers in the 50 free, and in my opinion he could also perform at a national level in the 1,650 if given the opportunity. There are very few swimmers who can do that. He looks effortless in the water and can change speeds better than almost anyone you'll ever see. He kills his sets at practice and then, at the end of the set, he raises his performance to another level. It’s amazing.”
Boasting a prototypical freestyle body type, the 6-foot-5 Dyer's physical attributes are a natural plus. But of course there's so much more. "Yes, it's true that Frank is very tall with long arms and legs, but what sets him apart is his mentality," says Babcock. "When he is behind the blocks, Frank is a mental fortress. That's why he is so quick and so consistent. When it comes to dual meets, we all expect Frank to step up and deliver because that's what Frank does: deliver.
"Frank is a coach's dream, because no matter what type of training you throw at him, he will find a way to make it work for his improvement. Everything that kid does in the water has a purpose. Frank is someone to be afraid of, because he knows what he has to do to win, and he will do it."
Tallman weighs in by highlighting another key aspect to Dyer's success: work ethic.
"Frank possesses one trait that is very important in high-level success, and it's a trait that is becoming harder and harder to find in young men," says Tallman, who will succeed Welsh as head coach of the Irish in 2014-15. "Specifically, Frank has come to believe in the training provided by his coaches. That is half the battle.
"If you have faith and a belief in what you are doing day in and day out, it will become that much easier to be successful. When Frank has questions, he asks, provides some feedback, and accepts the answers that are given--while continuing to push and become a better athlete than he was yesterday."
A Spirited Supporter of All Things Notre Dame
Some elite college athletes often fall into tunnel vision, developing an intense focus that confines their attention and energy within their own pursuit of excellence, and certainly within their own sport. Others, including many at Notre Dame, don't miss the chance at experiencing other valuable activities that are whirling around them throughout the campus. Frank Dyer is one such individual, clearly one of the more passionate and visible when it comes to wider-reaching involvement and support of Notre Dame activities.
During his four years at Notre Dame, Dyer's additional extra-curricular pursuits have included singing with Half Time, a co-ed a cappella group. Notre Dame women's swimmer Kelly Ryan nudged Dyer to try out for Half Time. Dyer has developed particularly close friendships with the eight fellow graduating seniors on the men's and women's swimming teams. He also counts student-athletes on the volleyball, soccer and fencing teams as similarly dear friends.
Speaking of Notre Dame volleyball, Dyer would have to rank as one of that program's greatest all-time super fans. That spirit, and an overall passion for all things Notre Dame, led to Dyer taking a leadership role within SAAC--Notre Dame's Student-Athlete Advisory Council. SAAC even created a position for Dyer, as chief of staff, and he spearheaded the Irish On 3 initiative (the name of course refers to the words preceding a team cheer). The Irish On 3 program encourages varsity teams to support other teams while earning points, with the team that provides the best intra-department support being recognized at the end-of-the-year student-athletes’ banquet.
"Swimming has been great for Frank to showcase his athletic ability, but it has also been a way for him to grow in his relationship with other athletes at Notre Dame," says Murphy. "At SAAC meetings, people can see the passion Frank has for his team and his school. He loves supporting other teams, loves service, and loves having a positive impact.”
Adds Babcock: "With SAAC, Frank truly is at home. That forum is something where he really blossoms, because he is very caring of others and is genuinely interested in the success of other athletes on other teams. The Irish On 3 program fosters this friendly universal support. Frank is the perfect figurehead for that movement."
Beyond his involvement with SAAC, Dyer also has participated in the athletic department's Rosenthal Leadership Academy, named in honor of former athletics director Dick Rosenthal who also was a two-sport star with the Irish, in basketball and baseball. In the fall of 2012, Dyer participated in the RLA's retreat experience at a lake camp in Michigan. A diverse collection of Notre Dame student-athletes spent the weekend learning together and learning about one another.
"We did various icebreakers and activities where we got to know each other on a more personal basis," says Dyer. "At the end, it was nice to hear positive feedback for me just being me. I was really humbled by all of the nice things people wrote to me just because they felt like doing it, not because they were told to."
"Wait, Are You Frankie Dyer's Sister?"
As the son of a homegrown basketball legend who played for the local college team at Siena, Frankie Dyer inherited the namesake and visibility that came with being his father's son. Loudonville technically is considered by the quaint designation of being a hamlet that is part of the town of Colonie, in Albany County. Many of the locals call the state capital city "Smallbany," because news travels so fast. Of course, much of that news over the past few years has revolved around the swimming exploits of one Frank Dyer. The budding star and second-generation hometown hero has become somewhat of a celebrity and role model around the Loudonville/Albany area.
In recent years, if you are related to Frank Dyer and have the same last name--you're sure to be asked/reminded that you are kin to a local superstar. Paying with cash at the grocery story or other local establishment might slightly solve the issue, as forking over a credit card usually leads to the inevitable question: "Are you Frankie Dyer's sister?” Or, "Are you Frankie Dyer's mom?” Yes, even Frank Sr. has been asked if he was Frankie Dyer's father. As Mary says: "All we can do is laugh and say, ‘Yup,' we are related to Frankie--everyone knows Frankie."
Dyer is quick to point out his strong appreciation for the support from the hometown faithful. His sister Margaret says, "Through all the success Frankie has experienced, including moving on to Notre Dame, when he comes home he always makes time to see his past swim coaches, teachers, and kids he has taught swim lessons to.”
Margaret's own experiences with "You're Frankie Dyer's sister" have a humorous element that is akin to the sister of Ferris Bueller in that 1980s movie classic. She even went to the school nurse one day and when her name was called, the nurse exclaimed, "Oh, you're Frankie Dyer's sister!" Another time recently, while shopping outside of town, Margaret even received the inquiring question from the sales clerk.
"All the questions about being related to Frankie kind of bugged me when I was younger, but now I am flatted by it," says Margaret, whose personality similarities to her brother jokingly have earned her the nickname "a girl version of Frankie" from his friends, whenever she comes to visit him at Notre Dame. "I am just so proud of my brother, and I kind of take on the role of the humble bragger for him."
Swimming Towards an Olympic Dream
Back in that recalibrating summer of 2013, as Dyer was competing at the U.S. Open nationals, he never once thought he was swimming in his final long-course (i.e., Olympic-format) swims. In order for those swims to not have been his final experience with long-course events, that naturally meant that he ultimately would be swimming competitively beyond Notre Dame. Lo and behold, Dyer emerged from the transformative 2013 summer looking to explore his post-graduation swimming options. A couple of connections within the swimming community landed Dyer in contact with Bowman, the legendary personal coach for the 22-time Olympic medalist Phelps.
Bowman had been following Dyer's career and told the 200 freestyle standout that he would be a good fit for the program at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. Renowned for hosting many of the world's elite 200 and 400 freestylers, the NBAC provides its members with the benefit of small training groups. Phelps has been known to drop in as a guest coach and training partner, while other participants have included the likes of Conor Dwyer and Matt McLean, both members of the 2012 Olympic gold-medal-winning 800-meter freestyle relay team. Reigning 200 freestyle Olympic gold medalist Yannick Agnel also trains at NABC, as does Allison Schmitt and other Olympic-level women's freestylers.
Dyer's decision to continue swimming after Notre Dame naturally evoked a little smile and more than a tinge of satisfaction from Welsh. "He was most proud of the fact that I somehow had fallen back in love with swimming,” says Dyer. “That's what my postgraduate swimming plans show. I truly do love swimming again."
When his competitive swimming days are over, Dyer hopes to possibly dive back into collegiate athletics--maybe settling into an administrative role. He could see himself involved in an area akin to the Notre Dame Athletics Student Welfare and Development office, which oversees initiatives such as SAAC and the Rosenthal Leadership Academy.
Wherever he ends up--when his days of racing against a stopwatch are over--Dyer has one simple goal: to make people happy. He hinted at that simple life purpose during an assignment for one of his favorite classes at Notre Dame, a course titled Business Problem Solving as part of his management consulting major.
Dyer and his classmates were presented with a seemingly basic task, with a twist: craft a classic elevator speech, but also indicate who you would want to be the recipient of those words. The term elevator speech refers to a “short summary used to quickly and simply define a person, profession, product, service, organization or event and its value proposition.”
Wanting to simply “get my speech over with,” Dyer volunteered to be the first member of his class to present his elevator speech. He blurted: “Hello, Oprah, I want to work for you because you know how to make people happy, and I want to be like that.” Some of his other classmates delivered their make-believe speeches to pioneers of business and innovation, such as Bill Gates or Mark Cuban. A class vote at the end of the exercise selected Dyer--aptly dubbed “the Oprah Kid” that day--among those who delivered the best elevator speeches.
“I was glad that my elevator speech stood out,” says Dyer. “It was different than the others, but that’s me. I really do enjoy making people happy.”
As he closes his collegiate career this week in Texas, Dyer will be cheered on by plenty of family and friends, including one of his valued youth mentors, Shaker High School swimming coach Kim Rixman Murray.
Moving forward, he will be chasing a dream that Frankie himself foretold in his eighth-grade yearbook, when he answered the question, "In 10 years I want to be . . ."--with the following wish/prediction: "An Olympic swimmer."
Of course, back then, Dyer could not have anticipated a couple major twists and turns that his life would take during the past few years. And more unforeseen obstacles certainly may lie ahead.
In truth, the straight line is not really as important, as much as the lessons learned from the journey and, hopefully, ultimately reaching that hard-earned end point.
Here are other Pete LaFleur profile features in 2013-14:
Randy Waldrum Era: A Success By Any Account (women's soccer)
Bobby Clark: Teaching To Win, And Hurrying Slowly (men's soccer)
Harry Shipp - Wandering Wizard of Notre Dame Soccer (men's soccer)
Dougie Barnard - Truly One Of A Kind (men's tennis)
Debbie Brown - A Volleyball Life: Then and Now (volleyball)
Tim Connelly - In For The Long Haul (women's cross country)
Grant Van De Casteele - A Domer By Chance (men's soccer)
Elizabeth Tucker - Accounting For Greatness (women's soccer)
Bayliss to Sachire - Seemingly Seamless Transition (men's tennis)