In May of 2018, Wyatt was hooded as a PhD in Mechanical Engineering at Cal. A few weeks later, not knowing where life was going to take him beyond this point, he shaved and rested for the Pro Swim in Santa Clara. On Day 2, he swam a 2:16 in the 200 breast, a lifetime best by over 3 seconds. This was notable at the meet as there was a lot of over-the-top cheering as well as palpable confusion on the pool deck as to what exactly had just happened. He was eventually DQ’ed for multiple dolphin kicks on his pullout, but the results were there.
The next morning, he swam a 1:01.82 in the 100 breast, a best time by nearly 2 seconds and a qualifying time for this summers nationals in Irvine. So let’s get down to the question that you inevitably have… who is this guy???
Wyatt Hodges is a name you may be familiar with if you’ve been around a pool deck for long enough. Many know him by the massive beard that he sports year round except for if he’s completely shaven. Many also know him just because they’ve seen him at so many frickin’ swim meets. This is the case because he’s been swimming competitively for the better part of the last 2 decades.
Hodges hails from Columbia, Missouri. He joined Columbia Swim Club at age 11, where he was known for wearing dragon swim trunks. At CSC, in great part through his intense work ethic, he rose through the ranks and became one of the most elite swimmers to come out of the club (where he still holds records). Through his performances in high school, Wyatt was offered a scholarship to swim and study at Purdue University, which he accepted.
During Wyatt’s time as a boilermaker, he was selected for the Big 10 team all 4 years, and went best times in the 100 and 200 breast, short course (55.54/1:59.75) and long course (1:03.63/2:20.06). He qualified for the 2012 Olympic Trials, which he attended and competed at in both breaststroke events. Being that this was the summer after his senior season at Purdue, it seemed like a natural end to his swimming career.
While at Purdue, he also earned a degree in mechanical engineering in 2013 (taking a 5th year to complete his degree), and made the decision to pursue a PhD in the same field of study. After applying and being accepted to numerous programs, Wyatt made the decision to take a the full ride offered to him by the University of California, Berkeley.
From 2012-2014, Wyatt found that he didn’t want to stop swimming, so he trained where he could find a pool and the time. This included with the club team in West Lafayette, Boilermaker Aquatics, as well as on his own. Once he arrived in Berkeley, he found a group that swam at noon every day at Spieker aquatic center called Fuego, and began to swim with them. When it’s someone’s birthday at Fuego, it is tradition for that person to bring donuts for everyone to practice. Wyatt is now a Fuego legend, for on his birthday he instead brought celery, to the dismay of many.
During this period, Wyatt continued to register best times. At the 2013 IN Senior Short Course Champs in March, he swam a 55.33. He found that he still wanted to compete, and train at the highest level he could. So in April of 2014, after nearly completing 1 year of grad school, Wyatt approached Cal men’s coach Dave Durden and asked if there was a spot for him in his training group. Durden confirmed that there was, and Wyatt began training with the Cal men’s team as a post-grad. It has now become a tradition throughout the team to yell Wyatt’s name with great enthusiasm, for no particular reason.
That summer at the 2014 nationals, after training with the Cal men for just 4 months, Wyatt went a lifetime best in the 100 breast, registering a 1:03.51. Wyatt continued to train with Cal while working through his PhD, with the goal of qualifying for another Olympic trials. In the summer of 2015, at the U.S. Nationals in San Antonio, he swam a 1:03.73, 2 tenths off his best and merely .04 away from a trials cut. He continued to train while completing his school work, and after a slue of meets in which he shaved and tapered for in the spring of 2016, he finally swam a 1:03.69 at the 2016 Atlanta Classic in May, qualifying for his 2nd Olympic Trials.
After competing at the 2016 Trials, it again seemed like an appropriate time to call it a career. However, Wyatt again found himself still in love with the routine of going to practice and coming to the pool everyday, so he continued to go to practice and come to the pool everyday. In his 4th year as a graduate student, he had to make sacrifices on behalf of his swimming, and couldn’t always make practices or weight sessions. He competed at the 2017 U.S. Open in Long Island, where he registered a 1:04.46 in the 100 breast.
Reevaluating his schedule and commitments once again after this season, Wyatt still wanted to keep swimming. Being in his last year of his PhD program, he could only find time to swim and lift once a day, so that’s what he did. In the early spring of 2018, at the age of 28, Wyatt came to the realization that if he kept his hips higher in the water, it was easier for him to swim breaststroke. He was skeptical at first, but eventually he was able to incorporate this small change into his stroke, and began seeing significantly increased results in both practice and meets.
What’s the next step in this cinderella career? Wyatt can’t even tell you, because he’s actually not so sure himself. He will, however, be participating at this summers nationals which he has now qualified for. So keep your eyes peeled, who knows what more he can accomplish with 2 more months of technique work and and a clean shave.
*Editor’s note: Wyatt Hodges is the brother of the author of this article, Coleman Hodges.