Duncan Proxmire ’21: Going the Distance

As an accomplished distance freestyler, Duncan Proxmire ’21 (McLean, Va./Langley) is accustomed to pacing himself for the long haul. That mentality paid off big in his first competitive swim race in seven months as the Gettysburg College senior bested a field of 36 competitors to take the top spot in the Swim for the Potomac 5K on Sept. 27.

Proxmire’s last competitive races came on the final day of the Centennial Conference Championship last February. He turned in a career-best and NCAA “B” cut time of 15:57.86 to finish runner-up in the 1,650-yard freestyle before closing out his junior season by swimming the fastest 100-yard split among his teammates in the 400 free relay. It was the cherry on top of an excellent season in the pool, which saw Proxmire achieve PRs in all of his events and set the program record in the 1,000 free (9:37.76).

Fast forward to September and Proxmire was feeling the competitive itch once again. The first opportunity to compete came in the form of the annual Swim for the Potomac, which sees all levels of swimmers compete in distances spanning 500 to 10,000 meters. Proxmire opted for the 5K event alongside swimmers ranging in age from 14 to 58.

The 5K represented the longest race of his career, not to mention his first open-water swim race since a mile event in high school. Despite being away from campus due to the on-going pandemic, Proxmire felt prepared to tackle the event thanks to continued distance training in the pool with his club team.

“A normal practice is like 6,000 or 7,000 yards so I never had any doubt that I was going to finish it,” said Proxmire. “I didn’t see anybody with any crazy short-course times in the field, so I thought I had a pretty good chance to win it. The main thing I was worried about was the cold because it’s late September and the water was not warm.”

Donning his speedo and cap, Proxmire dove into the chilly waters and steadily made his way through the pack. A veteran of many collegiate distance battles, he was cognizant of his short-falls in some past distance races and worked to overcome those with a strategic plan for the open-water 5K, which would feature four laps around an inlet on the edge of the Potomac River in National Harbor, Md.

“My plan was to just start out slow because a lot of times in regular swimming, I go out too fast and don’t finish that well,” he stated. “I can’t really do that in a race that’s an hour long. I didn’t really know what place I was in by the end. I knew that the amount of people I was passing was running thin so I knew I had to be close to the front.”

After the first lap, he was near the top-third of the field and by the midway point, he had crawled into the top six. Three-quarters of the way through the race only two more swimmers were running ahead of the Gettysburg senior. He left them behind on the home stretch, although it wasn’t until he met his parents on the shoreline that he realized he had won the race. Proxmire’s time of 57:01.9 was just over six seconds faster than his nearest competition

“I missed racing a lot over the last eight months and it felt really good to make a strategy before the race and execute it as best as I could,” said Proxmire. “Seeing it work felt really nice.”

Proxmire continued competing after the Potomac race, participating in a pair of meets with his club team, Machine Aquatics. He won his first 500 race at 4:43.19, which lined up with his standard dual meet performance this time of year. He dropped another three seconds off that clip in his most recent event, which marked the end of the competition season.

With intercollegiate competition suspended during the fall semester and the schedule for the spring semester unknown at this time, Proxmire has opted to take a gap year, but he intends to return for a full competitive swim season in 2021-22. He is saddened about missing the opportunity to swim again with his classmates, but when he returns to Gettysburg he aims to help the Bullets reclaim the conference crown they won when he was a freshman in 2018.

“It’s sad,” said Proxmire, who is working as a swim instructor at the Machine Performance Center in Vienna, Va. “I don’t know if anyone else in my class is going to take a gap year, so I’m really losing the senior year that I thought I was going to have with them. The 800 free relay was all people in my class.

“My goals for my senior year are to break the conference record in the 500, win three conference events, win the conference team championship, and make the national team,” said Proxmire. “I’m also looking forward to meeting the freshman and I know Coach Brown has recruited really hard. It’ll be really cool to be on the Gettysburg 2.0 team because it’s been reinvented since I was a freshman here.”Print Friendly Version

This story was originally posted on the Gettysburg College Website.

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