It’s 6:03 a.m. on a Monday at Harvard University and freshman Schuyler Bailar is just waking up. After taking five minutes in bed to check social media, he is up and on his bike heading across campus to swim practice.
Training starts at 6:30 a.m. and then it is into the pool for a two-hour threshold workout. A quick trip to the training room for recovery is followed by breakfast with his teammates.
There will be some studying, classes, downtime and a nap until lunch, followed by more studying and maybe another class. Weightlifting for an hour leads to night practice in the pool for another hour.
Light stretching to loosen up is completed before he heads off to dinner. The rest of the night is spent studying with friends or going somewhere off campus. Bedtime is at 10 p.m.
That was the typical day for Bailar during his first year at Harvard as a member of its NCAA Division I men’s swim team. His best time in the 100-yard breaststroke at the beginning of the season was 1:03.1. In the final meet of the season he uncorked a 59.4 individually and a 58.6 in a relay. For those unfamiliar with the upper echelon of swimming, that is a huge drop for one season.
“The whole team was up cheering for me and there were a lot of high-fives and hugs,” says Bailar. “I didn’t win, but I had just swum a best time and it was a really cool moment.”
It sounds like a scenario you would hear from many college swimmers in their freshman year though there are some items that need to be added to complete Bailar’s schedule.
There was a “60 Minutes” segment, an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show and requests from every major news outlet. Even though he was just settling into college, living away from home at 19 years old and going from a small school to a large school, he engaged with the media despite everything else on his plate.
He knew it was important to share his journey so that others may learn from it. He had already been reporting it through his Instagram, his blog and his YouTube channel, but now it was going mainstream.
Schuyler Bailar is the first openly transgender NCAA Division I swimmer and also the first publicly documented NCAA Division I transgender man to compete as a man in any sport.
“Everything was crazy last year and I was extraordinarily busy outside of all the other things I was doing,” Bailar says. “It added a different level to my schedule and it was not my style of living.”
While still in high school, Bailar was recruited by the Harvard women’s swimming team but he chose to take a gap year to transition. After transitioning he was also offered a spot on the Harvard men’s team.
Merging into the college athletic experience has taken some adjusting on Bailar’s part. In high school, he kept to himself and his swimming was completely outside of school. Those two aspects of his life never mixed.
“At Harvard, everything is intermingled and everybody is everywhere. I am social and very relational, but I like my alone time,” says Bailar. “I have had to learn to be social with my teammates because I had never done it before.”
In terms of his time drops in the pool during his freshman year, it remains unclear as to what he is capable of doing in the future. He began hormone replacement therapy in June of 2015 and he is going through the same body changes that happen to all Division I swimmers when they step into such an intense training program. Bailar has decided to focus on other aspects of swimming instead of setting time goals.
“I am putting value in feeling good in the water, taking care of my shoulders and being consistent in practice,” Bailar says. “It is a huge mindset shift because I had to relearn how to race people that might be a body length ahead of me.”
Acceptance from his teammates came early on as head coach Kevin Tyrrell called a meeting with the swimmers who number close to 40. They were all on board with him being on the team.
Another topic to consider was the locker room situation. Coach Tyrrell asked Bailar what he wanted and offered his own office as a changing room. His parents, Gregor and Terry, had some safety concerns regarding other teams, but Bailar wanted full integration into the locker room.
“The coach’s office was a nice fallback but segregation is not supportive of me on a human level,” says Bailar. “I needed to be part of the team dynamic. It hasn’t always been easy but it is something I want. My teammates would never let anyone from another team bother me.”
This summer Bailar spent time in Park City, Utah, shadowing an orthopedic surgeon, training in the pool and teaching swimming lessons to people with disabilities. Heading into his sophomore year at Harvard, he is still undecided on what his course of study will be and says for now he is keeping his options open.
When he returned to his home in McLean, Va., in July, he competed at the PVS LC Senior Championships at the University of Maryland. He attained his goal of qualifying for the finals in the 100-meter breaststroke where he knocked off more time from his preliminary heat.
As the swimming season approaches this fall at Harvard, he is in better shape than last year.
“It is a human condition to want to belong. I belong in the pool, I belong in my room, and I want to belong to the team,” Bailar says. “What drew me to Harvard was that it was the first place where I felt like I could be me.”