Overcoming adversity: Swimming senior Ryan Harty looks back at whirlwind career

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Economics senior Ryan Harty holds the trophy for fifth place in 100-yard backstroke at the NCAA Division 1 men’s swimming championship March 27, 2019.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Texas Athletics

Ryan Harty wasn’t always drawn to swimming. In fact, it took some major adversity for the three-time All-American and five-time Big 12 Champion to find his way to the sport he would grow to love.

At eight years old, Ryan was diagnosed with both hemophilia and Von Willebrand disease, as well as connective tissue disease. He had tried most sports as a child, but after meeting with a specialist, the doctor advised him to choose low impact sports.

“She gave me two options: either swimming or golf,” Ryan said. “As an eight year old, golf was not the most appealing sport to me, and I had done swimming in the past, so I decided to go with swimming.”

Ryan joined his local YMCA with his younger sister Kaitlyn Harty. After two months of trying swim lessons, Ryan transitioned to the competitive team where he was eventually coached by his mother, Jane Harty.

“He fell in love with swimming pretty quickly,” Janet said.“He loved all sports, but he found a passion through swimming out of a necessity of finding an outlet for his competitiveness and his drive to participate in some kind of sport activity.” 

Ryan was homeschooled, but quickly made his way up the 2015 recruiting rankings through a solid club swimming career. Just like his roundabout journey to the sport, Ryan’s path to Texas was just as unlikely.

He initially wasn't planning on visiting UT. He was set to take a recruiting trip to the University of Michigan, but his eligibility as a homeschooled student came into question, and he opted not to visit Ann Arbor. 

After a spot in his schedule opened up, Texas head coach Eddie Reese and then-associate head coach Kris Kubiak made it possible for Ryan to visit Austin. He immediately fell in love with Forty Acres.

“I should have known it was going to be Texas,” Janet said. “That was the only trip I picked him up from the airport where he had a school shirt on. He bought gear from other schools, but never wore it home.” 

After an exceptional freshman year that featured a Big 12 Championship in the 200-yard backstroke, Ryan was back and ready for his sophomore season — but more adversity hit.

That September, Ryan injured his wrist and both elbows after falling out of a tree while showing recruits around campus. His injuries forced him to redshirt, and after having surgery, Ryan struggled with not being able to swim. After some time, he eventually adopted the cheerleader mentality and credits Reese and his teammates for helping him throughout his experience.

“Eddie Reese was so understanding of everything I was going through, and the wisdom he was able to instill in me was really powerful,” Ryan said. “Eddie told me to take it day by day, show up for practice and just do a little more every single time, and I would get there. That is where I really realized this would take a long time, but if I take it step by step, I will get there.”

Ryan’s return to the pool was seamless. He would go on to break the Big 12 record in the 100-yard backstroke, taking fifth in the 100-yard backstroke, ninth in the 200-yard backstroke and 16th in the 200-yard Individual Medley at the 2019 NCAA Championships. 

In his final year as a Longhorn, Ryan embraced his role as an upperclassman and a leader. Yet, Ryan’s final year didn’t go as planned, as the coronavirus outbreak caused Ryan’s final season to be cut short. Just before his final NCAA Championships, his competitive swimming career was abruptly ended. But Ryan is used to things not going as planned. 

From his first days in swim lessons to his final meet as a Longhorn, his wayward journey through the sport has come to a bittersweet close.

“There are so many positive things that happened during Ryan’s time at Texas, and it is hard to put into words how valuable this time was for Ryan as an individual and the lessons that he is going to be able to carry on because of his time at Texas,” Janet said. “There isn’t a price tag that you could put on to that.”