Carson Foster Adjusting Well to New Normal as a College Freshman in Global Pandemic

Carson Foster
Photo Courtesy: Texas Athletics

Adjusting to a new life as a freshman in college is never easy. Adjusting to a new life as a freshman in college during a global pandemic is even harder. But for Texas freshman Carson Foster, it has almost seemed like a seamless transition in his first year in Austin, Texas.

In his first official meet as a Texas Longhorn in October – a small socially-distanced dual meet with in-state rival Texas A&M, Foster blasted a 3:35 in the 400 IM, lowering the national age group record just a few days before his 19th birthday, and moved to second on the all-time rankings with the third fastest time ever swum.

“I think for all things considered with no fans or real meets really, I was happy with my semester,” Carson Foster told Swimming World. “Obviously, I was stoked about the 400 IM in October but there are definitely some things I want to work on and improve. By no means am I extremely satisfied, I still want more. Looking forward to NCAAs and the team goals we have and the individual goals I have, I have a lot to work on to fulfill those. Overall I’m really happy with how first semester went, I think it was a step in the right direction towards where I want to be especially now the second Olympic year in a row. I feel really good where I’m at and I feel really happy with where I was first semester but also excited for some things to work on.”

Foster made sure to point out the oddities that were this fall semester during the COVID-19 pandemic: no competitions with more than two teams, no fans at dual meets, no home football games, no tailgates, no in-person classes, and limited social opportunities. But Foster and the Texas men have made the most of the situation.

He has resorted to taking all of his classes online, only traveling to campus for practice and to grab his meals in the football stadium. He is living in an off-campus apartment with his older brother Jake, and three other swimmers on the team. Swim team gatherings are done with less than ten people per CDC recommendations, leaving the team to have to get creative with how they bond with each other.

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Carson Foster; Photo Courtesy: Texas Athletics

“It’s normal for me, I can’t complain about it,” Foster said of freshman year in a pandemic. “I’ve had an awesome year and a lot of fun. But I am excited for things to be able to go back to normal and have us go to football games and have in-person classes and walk around campus together.

“I know it’s not a typical freshman year but having a group of friends to always hang out with and have a solidified circle of friends throughout the team going into your freshman year really helps. Overall, I couldn’t be happier with first semester.”

Living in an off-campus apartment has taken Foster away from the usual year in the dorms with his freshmen class, but he is able to still see them at practice and in virtual study halls done over Zoom, as well as on weekends when the team holds socially distanced video game tournaments.

“I think overall we are so close. With the culture that was created by the teams in the past, it has carried forward this year and the team grabbed the situation with COVID and we are working around it and not letting it affect our team and performance and our culture and that has been huge so credit goes to the seniors. Everything feels normal – obviously you can’t do everything that we used to be able to do like go wherever we want for dinner on Friday nights, but the team has hung out and done it safely and we have all been happy with the team this year.

“That’s something that took a little bit for our team to figure out. Obviously we were cautious of having everyone together in the same spot with COVID, you don’t know who might have it, and there is a rule against having more than 10 people in one place at one time if you are indoors so that has been tricky for us to figure out. The seniors have done an amazing job with thinking outside the box.

“We are really into playing Nintendo Smash and having a lot of tournaments on weekends.

“Typically we will go to one of the houses and spread out the TVs to the point where everyone can be spread out and you play your games. Some people wear masks. We get tested on Fridays and we usually play on Saturdays so we are confident that everyone is good and safe. We have kept our circle small within the team so no one is really worried about other people not being safe which is huge for our team. They don’t happen super often but they’ll last a couple hours and then we will go to dinner.”

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Carson Foster at a Texas home meet. Photo Courtesy: Texas Athletics

All in all with the difficulties of the new semester in a new city in a new global pandemic, Carson Foster had the constant of swimming, something he has had since he was a young kid in rural Ohio. He had moved to Austin in June and was training with some of the Texas team at the Nitro swim team nearby, but the adjustment to a new training group proved to be a challenge. Even though he felt the Mason Manta Rays prepared him well to training on a college team, it was a bit difficult when he was all of a sudden surrounded by some of the best swimmers in the world.

“I always talk about Mason but I think Ken prepares his swimmers so well to go to the next level and he treats it as if it was a college program so I feel like the scheduling with what we practice, how we practice has been really similar to what I have done at Texas. Eddie (Reese) and Ken (Heis) have very similar training styles so I think that has really helped me. My club team was pretty loaded with guys in my class and the class above me so I came from a pretty awesome training environment.

“But then coming down to Texas, I remember the first couple of weeks I was like ‘I don’t know what’s going on. I can’t win a set.’ I didn’t know if I was swimming bad or I had lost it over quarantine because I could not win a set,” Foster said. “There was someone always beating me in a set and I called Ken and I was like, ‘I’m getting beat and I don’t know what is happening. I feel like I am going fast times but I can’t win anything.’ But Ken told me, ‘you are probably in the best training group in the whole world.’

“So for me to go into practice every day and race guys that are in contention for Olympic spots in pretty much every event has been huge. Even training with the pros like Will (Licon) when I’m working on IM or when I’m doing breaststroke, or working with Townley (Haas) and Clark (Smith) on freestyle sets. Now Gunnar (Bentz) is here. The pros mashed with our college team has just created a really awesome training environment and I think that has been the biggest thing to elevate my training this year. You have to be on every day if you want to compete and I think that has helped all of us.”

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Carson Foster set to race in Texas’ opener. Photo Courtesy: Texas Athletics

It has certainly helped Foster, who has lowered his best times in both the 200 and 400 IM despite taking an extended break during the COVID-19 lockdown. When he went that 3:35 in the 400 IM in October against Texas A&M, it was a big shock to see that time so early in the season, considering that was what he wrote as his goal time for March.

“I felt like combined with the training I never got to show at the end of last year when everything got cancelled combined with what Eddie (Reese) and Wyatt (Collins) put me through, I was really confident in where I was and the improvements I made in the weaker parts of my race.

“I think racing Shaine (Casas) in that event was huge for me because one of the most talented swimmers in the NCAA right now. And to be able to race him really pushed me and I was super excited when I found out he was swimming that at that meet because he is an awesome swimmer and that was a big part of me getting to 3:35 because I was basing my race off him and where he was at. Looking up at the board and having it be my first official Texas swim and having the guys in the stands cheering for me was huge and I think overall I was shocked about it for like a day and then it set in once they put the record up in the pool. That was pretty cool.”

“It’s pretty much everything I expected going in which is great because it is why I decided to come here. Training with the guys is awesome and Austin is an awesome place to live even during COVID when you can’t really go out and do much. I am the happiest I have ever been down here.”

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Texas '84

    Rural Ohio? Cincinnati?