Tyler O’Halloran: The swimmer that could
Once upon our childhood years, a little blue engine overcame insurmountable odds to pull a large train full of toys up a steep mountain, all while reminding itself, "I think I can, I think I can." This cute little story that many children have heard over and over again is a paradigm of the power of positive thinking.
And, so is UT senior swimmer Tyler O'Halloran. After two seasons of gradual progress, O'Halloran's time finally came last season for him to prove his talent, and he has not gone anywhere but up since then.
When O'Halloran (Boardman, Ohio/Boardman H.S.) was recruited out of high school, his prep career was full of All-America and All-State awards, but to UT head coach Eddie Reese, those accomplishments were simply the norm and were nothing spectacular.
"Tyler came out of a program where his dad coached him, and he was the best swimmer in his team," Reese said. "He had some good times out of high school, but none of them were especially great."
Nonetheless, there was something about O'Halloran that piqued Reese's interest enough for him to offer O'Halloran a scholarship.
"He had four pretty good strokes and I was looking for somebody with four pretty good strokes," said Reese, a soon-to-be three-time U.S. Olympic head coach. "He fit the bill, and I was lucky; he was better than I thought."
Four years later, Reese is reaping the benefits of his decision to invest time and energy in the Ohio native. After two years of decent times and decent finishes, O'Halloran's time came at the 2006 NCAA Championships where he had a breakout performance, finishing fourth in the 100-yard breaststroke.
"The first couple of years, Tyler was getting faster but not scoring at NCAAs," Reese said. "He has continued to work -- more on faith -- than anything else. He works at everything. Consistency and persistence are what make you succeed in this sport, and Tyler has that. His time came last year, and he'll be even better this year."
While his coaches may credit his perseverance as the key to his emergence, O'Halloran gives credit back to the coaching staff for its trust in his abilities.
"Between my freshman and sophomore years, nothing amazing really happened," O'Halloran said. "I think I even dropped some time from high school my freshman year. I think everybody gets stuck in a rut, and Eddie was constantly telling the guys to not get frustrated with any slumps because the next year could be a breakout year, which fortunately happened to be my junior year."
Like many of his teammates, O'Halloran was born to swim the waters. His father, Terry, swam for Westminster College and has been one of Tyler's coaches throughout his life.
"I don't remember how I got started swimming exactly, but I know that swimming was going to happen, one way or the other," O'Halloran said. "My two brothers and I played soccer, baseball and everything else little kids did, and I also ran track in high school. But, swimming stuck with me throughout it all."
Competitive swimming was bound to be a part of Tyler's future as he continued to progress through the years.
"My parents never really pressured me to become a college swimmer because I think that they knew that swimming was going to happen regardless. Even when picking colleges, my parents tried to stay out of the decision making as much as possible."
And while others may have had the hard choice of choosing schools, Tyler's decision was much easier. It was not because Texas was the only school who offered. In fact, O'Halloran also received scholarship offers from Stanford, Auburn, Tennessee, and North Carolina. However, Texas was the only school that left a good lasting impression on O'Halloran's mind.
"First of all, Eddie Reese is without a doubt the best coach in the world," O'Halloran exclaimed. "The first time I walked into the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center from the back doors, the bulkheads were down and my first reaction was, 'Wow, this looks like a basketball court, not a swimming pool!' I was kind of awestruck about that scene, with all of the championship banners hanging over the pool.
"I cannot say enough about the guys that have been here before me," O'Halloran continued. "When you look up at the record boards at our facility and take it all in, it is very humbling. I knew that I would learn more here, not necessarily as a swimmer, but also as a person."
Four years after his first trip to Texas, O'Halloran's name is now one of those listed on the school records board at the Texas Swimming Center, as part of the 200 freestyle relay team. Aside from his swimming accolades, he also has made many accomplishments in the classroom.
Like many of his teammates, the idea of pursuing swimming after college has crossed O'Halloran's mind more than once, but his opportunities are endless after he graduates from UT with a bachelor's degree in journalism. Named to the Academic All-Big 12 First Team for 2005-06, O'Halloran recorded a 4.0 GPA during the fall 2006 semester and hopes to attend law school in the future.
"I'm going to graduate in journalism and take a year off to try to work in a law firm before I hopefully apply to law schools," O'Halloran said. "My mom is a lawyer, but I don't think that necessarily drew me to the profession. I think it is interesting work. I know that (studying law) is extremely difficult, but I won't be swimming anymore, so that would free up some time."
Nevertheless, swimming could still be a short-term option if O'Halloran continues to progress like he has over the years. O'Halloran qualified to compete at this summer's World University Games, and how he fares there may be the deciding factor in his swimming career beyond UT.
"Tyler is very good academically and I think he'll decide how far he wants to go in swimming after the World University Games," Reese said. "He is realistic about pretty much everything, and that is a good way to look at things."
"If things go well there, then I might train through the U.S. Olympic Trials," O'Halloran added. "I'm just enjoying these last few years of swimming, whether it be a six months or many more years."
Heading into his final few meets as a Texas Longhorn, the tri-captain has helped lead the top-ranked Longhorns to a perfect 7-0 record, which they will put to a test against the 24th ranked Texas A&M on Saturday, Jan. 27. The team then heads to College Station where it looks to defend its Big 12 title. After UT hosts the American Short Course Championships, a trip to the NCAA Championships is the final course before Tyler closes the book on his college career.
Looking back on that same book, O'Halloran has many memories that have made him laugh and remembers important lessons that still stick with him.
"I remember the first time I was swimming at the Big 12 Championships my freshman year. We were swimming the 200 free relay against A&M, and we knew it was going to be a close race. I was so terrified, and they put me on the anchor for the relay. We swam the relay, and I ended up having a really bad relay start, and we lost by about a tenth of a second. I look back and think of how I would handle the situation now, and I know I would do so much better in a situation like that now. It makes me feel like I have really progressed here."
Most importantly, O'Halloran can be proud to say that in the midst of all the challenges he has faced -- all of the hard times and frustrations he has had to overcome -- he has never taken his eye off of the top of the hill, and, boy, is he closer than ever.