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Olympic Inspiration

by John Bishop / Boston Bruins -- There are plenty of New Englanders currently competing (and winning!) at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, and there's certainly a fair number of fans of the Black & Gold wearing Red, White & Blue.

Alex Meyer

However, the folks over at Harvard shot me a note about one member of Team USA who didn't necessarily grow up a Bruins fan, but used the B's run to the Stanley Cup as motivation (and a necessary distraction) as he worked to secure his spot in London for 2012.

Alex Meyer, who graduated from Harvard University in 2010, is a distance swimmer and while his sport might be seem completely disparate from hockey, the former Crimson said there's a certain rough and tumble nature inherent in his event - the 10K Marathon Swim set to take place in London on August 10.

"So my younger brother played hockey and when I was younger -- like maybe like 10, 11, 12 -- I would go to the skate and shoot up at the rink in Ithaca cause I had some gear," said the swimmer as he readied to leave for Europe last week. "I quickly figured out that it just wasn’t for me.

"I was terrible at anything on land, basically. I’m the most clumsy, uncoordinated -- like totally not athletic person that I know, and since I’ve always swam I always secretly coveted playing a contact sport."

And while his swim marathons don't necessarily qualify as a contact sport, Meyer, said that it's not unusual to see some collisions in the water.

"I’ve also kind of found that I really like that part of it more because it can be pretty brutal and pretty physical and it’s not uncommon to have some bloody noses and some black eyes after a race," said Meyer. "Some of it is unintentional, but some of it may be a little bit vindictive or malicious - but I like that.

"Just like in hockey, it’s not like there’s any hard feelings or anything like that - we recognize it as part of the sport we embrace that and so I do like that.

"On a different side of things it’s a two-hour race; it’s a marathon pretty much, so not only are you battling other people that are bumping up against you constantly, but it’s a huge internal battle too…as you’re fighting the urge to quit for two hours pretty much so that gets pretty brutal after a while," he said.

Beyond his respect for the physical nature of hockey, Meyer said his love of the Bruins came from an unusual place - his hometown of Ithaca, New York.

"I pretty much grew up going to Cornell hockey games and really loved watching hockey and loved Cornell which caused a little bit of internal conflict for me when I went to Harvard," said Meyer on the bitter Ivy League hockey rivalry between the Big Red and Crimson. "I felt like I couldn’t really root for either team when I went to watch the Harvard-Cornell games."

So the B's became Meyer's favorite hockey team as Boston became home.

Meyer in London with his coach Tim Murphy

"I guess it’s more just a love of hockey, since I’ve lived in Boston for the past five, six years I’ve become a Boston sports fan," said Meyer. "I’ve never cared that much about any professional sports in high school; I just kind of did my own thing and I grew up in Ithaca, basically a hippie town.

"There’s not a huge sports calling there anyway so once I – when I came to college a lot of my roommates and close friends were all crazy sports fans so I kind of got into it because of them and since I was in the Boston area I just converted I guess to being a Boston sports fan even though I’m from New York."

Since he's been in the Boston area, Meyer's seen a lot of winning from the local entries in the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL, but the swimmer said that watching the Bruins actually helped him as he worked to achieve a berth in his sports toughest competition.

"I’m swimming the 10K in qualification and it’s a little more complex than just getting top-two at our trials, because there’s such a limited number of participants in the Olympics. So, the first round of qualification basically for me was last summer's National Championships in June of 2011 and that’s when the Bruins had just beat the Tampa Bay Lightning," said Meyer.

"I was just really nervous and I used all the Stanley Cup stuff as kind of a way to get my mind off of things and get excited about something else competitive and athletic besides swimming and especially my own swimming.

"In a way I kind of put my faith in the Bruins," explained Meyer, who had lost a close friend to drowning during a 2010 race. "I was like 'You know, if the Bruins win the Stanley Cup then I feel like I’m gonna win nationals and make the Olympic team.'

"[Boston was down 3 games to 2 vs. Vancouver] the night before nationals, before my actual race. So I swam the following morning and actually won the race. And then [after the B's tied the Stanley Cup Final] I got to be back in Boston for Game 7 and was downtown for all that mayhem.

"Obviously, I was really excited and happy to be part of all the craziness and celebration and then just a few weeks later I qualified for the team at World Championships."

Now, the converted Bostonian is glad to be part of such a crazy sports tradition.

"I do make sure to rock my Bruins t-shirt fairly often, especially when I travel internationally because it’s always cool when somebody recognizes what that is or someone’s from Boston and they’re like, ‘Hey go B’s!’ or something like that because if I ever saw someone in China with a Bruins or a Red Sox cap I’d probably go up and say something to them," said Meyer. "So I’m happy people come up to me in far away lands.

"I definitely consider Ithaca to be home and that’s where I grew up, but I kind of catch myself - I’m at that point where I catch myself referring to Boston as home and I’m like, ‘Wait I mean back at Cambridge or back to Boston.’ It is starting to feel more and more like a home to me and I’ve basically lived there since my freshman year of college which was the fall of 2006," added Meyer. "And I guess every year a little bit closer to being a true Bostonian."

And that comes with all the craziness you'd expect from a Boston sports fan. Asked if there were such a thing as Bruins Speedo, Meyer laughed and said, "No but there should be!"

---Congrats and "Good Luck!" to all of New England's representatives in London!^BISH

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