Robert "Bobby" Hackett

 May 2009 ALUMNUS OF THE MONTH         


At the tender age of five, Bobby Hackett was already showing great potential as a competitive swimmer.  Eleven years later Bobby Hackett vs. Brian Goodell vs. Steven Holland vs. Tim Shaw would become one of the greatest rivalries of all time and one of the greatest stories in swimming history.  

As a matter of fact, Rowdy Gaines, our own USA Swimming Foundation ambassador, swam with Bobby many years ago and vividly remembers watching this infamous race at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Rowdy writes:

“My first international trip was the World Championships in 1978. I was a scared 19 year old and I’m meeting all my heroes from the 1976 Olympic Team (still the best in history, in my opinion).   I swam the 800 free relay and Bobby Hackett was on it with me. It was one of the hugest honors to this day to swim a relay with him, Bruce Furniss and Bill Forrester, three of the greatest swimmers but more importantly, three of the nicest people in all of swimming.   They all offered me encouragement and although I was the same age as Bobby, he seemed mature beyond his years."

"I will never forget watching him and Brian Goodell racing in perhaps the greatest 1500 in Olympic history. He was only 16 years old then and now he was my teammate! We won the gold and broke a World Record. I will never forget what an incredible person Bobby was then and still is today…a friend for a lifetime." 

How important were the friendships you made as a swimmer, and who do you still keep in touch with today?  The one thing I am amazed at is how the sport of swimming is such a club and collegial sport. No matter one’s level we all woke up at the same time, did about the same amount of yardage, had the same level of attention from our coaches, had our parents dedicate their weekend and holidays on the road with us for competitions, enjoyed our individual and collective successes and hopefully learned from our disappointments. It is this time with our teammates, coaches and competitors that forms a bond that is strong, enduring and everlasting. To be honest, immediately after retiring from swimming after graduating from college I wanted nothing to do with the sport. Burn-out was definitely an issue for me. But after a few years of being away from the sport, some assistant coaching work while in graduate school, and some reflection I have stayed in touch with a handful of my ‘swimming buddies’. I have remained close to my coach of 10 years Joe Bernal, several of my fellow national team members (Brian Goodell, Steve Gregg, Rowdy Gaines – with the help of the USA Swimming Alumni Program) and of course my college and USS swimming teammates. Over the last few years, I have become much more involved as a swimming parent. My third and youngest son enjoys the sport and at the age of 13 is still engaged with a local USS Swimming team north of NYC. His involvement has brought me back to the sport and I think I am one of the few people who actually enjoys sitting through a four hour swim meet. In fact, the coaches and swimmers have been nice enough to allow me to help ‘coach’ with my focus being distance swimming. As I have found out, unfortunately, there are not many children interested in distance, but I have fun building their endurance, helping them set realistic goals (not their parents), stoke technique, race strategy, building confidence and having fun! I think I am the one having the fun…..

Tell us something about you that most people wouldn’t know – something that might surprise people.  I was the first person in my family (including our relations) to attend and graduate from college. Being from a family of individuals that worked in blue collar, union and civil servant jobs it was not unusual for people not to attend college. Another interesting fact is I did not receive a scholarship for swimming at Harvard, was on financial aid and worked 12 hours per week to help pay for my education (and I worked each summer as well). This coupled with my academic work load and training 7 days a week made for some challenging times. But I would not change the experience for it kept me focused and grounded on what was important to me – academics and a future beyond the sport of swimming.  

What is the most significant accomplishment of your post-swimming career?  I believe there are two accomplishments I am most proud. First, I will be celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary this year to my wife Diane. She is the love of my life and my best friend. Second, watching my sons Ryan (23), Sean (20) and Liam (13) grow and mature. We are all close, respect each other and have as much fun as we can given the challenges we face every day.   

If you had to single out one enduring moment from your swimming career, what would that be?  One would think that the 1,500 meter freestyle final at the Montreal Olympics was my most enduing moment. From a personal perspective that is the moment I still relish and was the individual highlight of my career. But, the most exciting and memorable moment was a dual meet in February 1978 between Harvard & Princeton at the grand opening of Harvard’s new pool. Quick background: Princeton was the perennial Ivy League champ and was clearly the better team. The pool was packed with students, alumni and dignitaries, all curious about this new pool and a team made up of upper classmen and a bunch of upstart freshmen with a new coach. Trust me when I say swimming was not a big time sport at the time at Harvard or in the Ivy League. There was an unbelievable air of excitement and anticipation. Everyone was shaved but me and we all knew the meet would go down to the wire. I can still hear the sounds, feel the pulse of the building and the highs and lows of the meet were something I had never experienced. I also remember the announcer stating to the crowd as the meet progressed that for Harvard to win they would need to go 1-2 in the 500 free, 2nd in the 200 breast, 1-2 in the diving and win the 400 free relay. As each swim and event passed one could sense the momentum swing, the mood changed and the sounds of the crowd became louder and louder. As the relay was coming to its conclusion and I was ready to take off as the anchor slightly behind my Princeton competitor the sound was unbelievable. I remember I could not feel my body and as I made the turn at the 50 the roar was deafening. As the race finished and I looked at my teammates and the crowd all I could do was smile and take in the moment. The fact that the sport of swimming on that day became a true team sport, with teammates who had a common set of goals and aspirations, and to see people who knew nothing about the sport jumping out of their chairs hugging and giving high-fives, well that is my most enduring memory.     

What words of wisdom or advice do you have for our current National Team swimmers?  My advice is always pretty simple – stay focused on the goals you set, listen to those who know you best – your coaches, parents and a few close friends, be committed and follow through on your promises – to yourself and others, be honest and fair, earn the trust of others, find a mentor, work consistently hard, be patient and enjoy what you do. Also, make sure you have interests outside the pool for the road in front of you is a long one. Take what you have learned and apply it to your future endeavors. You will be amazed at the success you will enjoy in your relationships, with your family and with your work if you apply the traits that made you successful in the pool.

Tell us about where you are today, and what you see in your future.  Today I live in Katonah, NY and work at Jones Lang LaSalle as a senior executive in its Corporate Solutions business (Corporate Real Estate Outsourcing). I love what I do and look forward to coming to work each day. Although the global economy is in a recession our business is growing as companies look to reduce their real estate costs. But times are certainly tough. The future has me working in this business for another 10+ years, possibly spending more time coaching and spending more time with my family and friends. I also look forward to more National Team alumni reunions and staying connected with my ‘swimming family’. The sport has been wonderful to me and I need and expect to give back some more of my time and resources. I hope you will do the same.