It’s been a long time since Westmont Hilltop High School graduate Joe Ward had some free time.
During his high school career, he competed in swimming during the winter and track and field during the spring. That carried over into college, when he accepted an offer to swim for Clarion University.
Four years later, Ward has wrapped up his collegiate career on a successful note, finishing sixth in the 100-yard freestyle at the NCAA Division II Men’s Swimming and Diving National Championships. He swam a 44.50 in the finals, nearly reaching the school-record 44.30.
The placing brought All-America honors, the sixth time Ward has achieved such status.
Ward became a two-time All-American at the 2010 nationals, placing in relays. He added two more All-America awards at the 2011 nationals, when he placed fifth in the 100 freestyle at 44.30 and 11th in the 50 freestyle at 20.33.
At this year’s meet, he clocked a 1:39.71 in the 200 freestyle for 15th place and his fifth All-America honor.
Now, Ward is concentrating on academics. But, there could well be more competitive swimming in the future.
“My near-term plans include a master’s degree in counseling psychology and, eventually, a Ph.D. in sports and performance psychology,” he said. “I’ve toyed with the thought of maybe training for another year and, maybe, making another try at the Olympic trials. I haven’t made a commitment to it yet. I’ve been close to the cut in the last couple of years, but I never really made one.”
For some, not having made the cut in prior attempts might mean not trying again. But, Ward has shown the ability to come back and win after falling short.
As a sophomore, Ward won the 50 freestyle at the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championship meet, but finished only second the following year. He came back to take victory as a senior.
When he lists his most memorable accomplishments, other such comebacks stand out.
“Some would be making it back to the finals in the 200 freestyle the past year after being 40th in the preliminaries,” he said. “Two years ago, in my sophomore year at (the 2011 nationals in) San Antonio, going to the championship final of the 200 freestyle and finishing fifth with school and conference records ... or possibly being the conference champion in the 100 freestyle for three straight years.”
What comes next for Ward remains to be seen, but there is no doubt about one thing: He has no regrets about the past.
“I’m just grateful for all the support from my family, friends, teammates and coaches all the way from the high school level to the collegiate level,” he said. “I’m very grateful for everything, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
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