Even on a campus where students routinely manage a multitude of activities, Andrew Helber ’16’s schedule sounds overwhelming: A varsity swimmer and member of the Nassoons, he has taken five courses in each of the last four semesters to stay on track as a music major and complete the science courses he’ll need to apply for medical school.
A cappella rehearsals end at midnight, tightening Helber’s window for sleep before 6:30 a.m. swimming workouts, but he insists he has learned to make the most of naps. And while he admits that being an athlete and singer can add stress during already-hectic times like midterms week, he also highlights stress-relieving perks, including training trips to Florida and summer singing gigs at a mountainside resort.
Helber has just one juggling act that he tries to avoid: A few times each year, his teammates ask him to sing the national anthem before a home meet, which is a tricky commitment for someone who also swims in the opening relay event. “I don’t mind doing it,” Helber said with a laugh. “It’s just a quick turnaround — high-pressure situation to high-pressure situation.”
In the last three years, Helber has given more than his voice to Princeton’s successful swimming and diving program. He has emerged as one of the Tigers’ top backstrokers and a strong freestyle swimmer as well. Not bad for someone who, in the words of assistant coach Mitch Dalton, “wasn’t even on our radar” when he applied to Princeton.
Helber is one of a handful of walk-ons, or nonrecruited athletes, on the men’s swimming team. The group also includes Conner Jager ’15, who posted two top-10 finishes at last year’s Ivy League Championships. Head coach Rob Orr has a history of welcoming walk-ons, Dalton said. In Helber’s case, the coaches saw a capable athlete who was charismatic and committed to the sport. “As a swimmer, he really has taken off,” Dalton said, noting that in Helber’s strongest event — the 100-yard backstroke — he has cut three seconds from his personal best in high school.
Though his extracurricular interests are varied, Helber maintains a narrow focus in the pool, listing two near-term goals: Beat Harvard at the H-Y-P meet later this month, and earn one of the 17 sought-after spots on Princeton’s Ivy meet roster. (Last year, he was the first alternate.)
“We brought in some really fast freshmen, nobody’s left the team, and everyone trained hard over the summer,” Helber said. “It’s going to be tough [to make the Ivy team], but that makes everyone get better.”