Mount Holyoke's Grace Bauer Featured in Western Mass Sports Journal

Grace Bauer - WMSJ
Mount Holyoke's Amazing Grace
By: Kyle Belanger - Western Mass Sports Journal Editor

Grace Bauer tilts her head to the side and gently bites the inside of her lower lip. It's a look of quiet concentration, one that the Mount Holyoke College senior swimmer has perfected on this sunny fall afternoon. And a look that, at this moment, has seemingly put the world around her on "pause."

Then, just as quickly as she fell into her thought, she springs into her answer -- head straightening and confidently launching into motion.

Undoubtedly, it is this "read-and-react" approach to everything in her life that has helped the 21-year-old Bauer reach the level of excellence that she has in the Lyons' pool over the past three seasons. Those heights are more than simply personal bests; they are some of the best swimming performances that the school has ever seen.

Entering her final season in Lyons' goggles, Bauer owns an astonishing nine school records - five individual marks, and four as a member of relay teams. And while there's no telling how many more records she may set in her final go-'round, she has no problem singling out one of her current marks as the most meaningful.

"The one that means the most is the 100 (yard) butterfly, because it's such a physically demanding stroke, and the one that I've really kinda fallen in love with," she explained with a smile. "I used to be a distance freestyler, but I kind of burned out on that. And there's just something about the fly."

Specifically, that "something" is the incredible physical demand that the stroke places on the athletes who dare to tame it. It's a feeling that Bauer, herself, describes eloquently.

"When you're in the pool and it's all going right, it's the kind of pain that's not really true pain," she began. "You might even get to the edge of the pool and think, 'It's not that bad.' But then when you get out, your whole body is just exhausted."

The Oakdale, Conn., native began swimming competitively at age 9, when her father, who is also a swimmer, sought out a competitive team for her and her siblings. While her twin sister and older brother weren't quite sold on life in the deep end, Grace had officially taken the plunge.

Although the fire was lit inside of her at a delicately young age, you've got to fast-forward more than a decade to find Bauer's marquee athletic moment. It was her sophomore year at Mount Holyoke, and the event was the 2006 NEWMAC Championship meet.

Quite frankly, Bauer could not be stopped.

That weekend alone, the future college chemistry professor broke 12 (yes, 12!) Lyons records.

"Everything just worked -- it was a fast pool, I felt great -- and the results … wow," she beamed.

The NEWMAC romp came at the tail end of a hugely formative year for Bauer, who will put the finishing touches on her chemistry degree this year before pursuing a doctorate in organic chemistry.

"Sophomore year was huge developmentally for me, both physically and emotionally, and I think that my swimming really benefited from that, and was a large part of it too," she reflected.

While Bauer still longs for the rush and accomplishment of victory, she is approaching her senior season with a new twist. She has, indeed, set some pretty hefty goals for herself, which will take incredible dedication to reach. Publicly, she's striving for a truly grounded and enviable goal.

"You can only swim competitively for so long, and I've got one more season of this kind of competition, so I'm really looking to enjoy myself and the time I have left with these girls," she said.

As a captain, Bauer is just as level-headed. While some athletes in her position can get frustrated by teammates who may not be as athletically gifted, that's not the way she operates.

"There's so much more to this sport than trying to set your (personal record), because, at some point, you won't be able to do that anymore," she offered. "You have to learn to appreciate other things that you get out of it, because it's so hard, but incredibly rewarding."

The Mount Holyoke swim season kicks off Nov. 3 and runs through the NEWMAC championship in late February.