From Cadet to Olympian

The 2015 Benedictine yearbook’s “Senior Superlatives” section featured Townley Haas as “Most likely to go to the Olympics,” an honor bestowed upon him by his classmates.

It took less than a year and a half for Haas to prove his friends right, as he qualified for the U.S. Olympic swim team and its journey to the 2016 Rio Olympics. Then he surpassed even their lofty prognostications, going on to earn a gold medal at the quadrennial Summer Games in the 4 X 200 relay.

To the best of anyone’s knowledge, he thus became the first-ever graduate of Benedictine to strike Olympic gold.

“Benedictine has a history of great athletes. We've had many players and coaches in the NFL and NBA,” said Haas. “It is a huge honor to be their first Gold Medalist of, hopefully, many more.”

Making Haas’s accomplishments all the more remarkable is the fact that his high school has never carried an impressive reputation when it comes to swimming: Benedictine is known more for its accomplishments in the less watery sporting events, such as basketball, baseball and football. Nevertheless, Haas earned RVA Swimmer of the Year honors, from the Times-Dispatch, during his final three years at Benedictine. As you might expect, he also owns nearly every swimming record at the school.

Setting those records were but small steps for this Cadet. Today, in addition to his Olympic gold medallion, Haas owns the NCAA Division I record in the men’s 200 yard freestyle and is the reigning NCAA champion in that event and the 500 yard freestyle. He is the first swimmer ever to break the 1:31 mark in the 200 free. That means, for all of recorded time, nobody on the face of this earth has ever swum that distance in a faster time. Nobody.

All of these developments are certainly heady stuff, particularly for a young man who was collecting his sheepskin at Rut Gymnasium and watching the final plate spin of his Cadet days not so long ago. But his earned elevation into the ranks of the world’s swimming elite, where he found himself joining forces with perhaps the greatest swimmer the world has ever known, doesn’t seem to have affected his well-grounded, disciplined and humble approach to his sport and to life.

While his classmates may have seen the Olympic potential in him, the young man wasn’t necessarily buying into it, at least during his senior year. In fact, he was well into his freshman year at the University of Texas before making the Olympic team even entered his thoughts.

“The Olympics did not become a reality until the end of my freshman year,” he noted. “And even then, I didn't think about it until (Texas Head Coach Eddie Reese) came up and told me I was looking good for Trials, especially since I am a better long-course swimmer.”

“Looking good” became “looking great” as Haas was top dog at the Trials in the 200, edging out a field that included an 11-time champion of the event. What happened after he won his berth on the team has been well documented elsewhere: Haas swam the fastest leg on the U.S. Men’s relay team, helping to propel it to the winner’s stand.

Shortly after his successful ventures, Haas returned to Richmond. He was given a conqueror’s welcome at his home-standing NOVA swim club during a brief window of time. He also made time to visit his alma mater. As his stop took place during the summer, he found a quiet campus, though he was able to visit with the monks and some school administrators. What Haas really seemed intent on doing, however, was spending some time in the ceramics lab with a small group of former Cadet classmates. Together, the quartet “threw some pots,” joined by Rachel Siewers and Aimee Staples, Benedictine art teachers.

Reflecting on his time as a Cadet, Haas is quick to share an appreciation for his time at Benedictine. “Benedictine does an incredible job of teaching us respect, discipline, honesty and many other great qualities,” he said. “Most of these I learned from my parents, but Benedictine did a great job of reiterating all of these and making sure we remembered them. The school also taught me a great deal about time management. A high schooler--especially athletes--has so many things to juggle between practice, class, homework and hanging out with friends. Benedictine did a great job of teaching me to keep all of these on track.”

Of course, when you’re a full-time student and a world-class athlete, time management becomes even more critical.

Also of great criticality is a strong support network. Haas’s presence at the Olympics had the Richmond area aflutter, with family, neighbors and friends all pulling for him. Of course, the Benedictine community was equally excited. “Nothing beats the Benedictine brotherhood,” marveled Haas. “ I kept in touch with most of my great friends throughout the Games. Even some Alumni contacted me and told me how proud they were.”

And still are.

Article Written by Mike Forster, Communications Director, BCP