When you see Matthew Hutchins, a junior majoring in history at University of Wisconsin, walk out of the Wisconsin Historical Society with a stack of books, you might not connect him with a swimmer who recently qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
But Hutchins did just that.
After eight years of competitive swimming, three of which were spent as a part of the UW men’s swimming and diving team, he got the exciting news that he is heading toward the biggest international sports event in history this summer and is the first Wisconsin swimmer to qualify for the Olympics since 2004.
A New Zealand native, Hutchins will compete in the 2016 Olympic Games representing his home country. For the 400-meter freestyle trial meet April 7, his time fell within the qualifying standard of 3:50.44, and he finished as one of the top two swimmers in New Zealand.
“Every country has a trial meet,” Hutchins said. “How it works is that there’s an international standard set, like a baseline time that you have to swim within, and each country is allowed to set their own standards based off that.”
Hutchins said that he has always had his eyes on the prize and that he had been training for many years, receiving numerous honors as a college swimmer. He has won two All-American accolades, Big Ten Swimmer of the Year and set three school records at UW.
Hutchins said his passion for competitive swimming started early on in his life.
“I’ve always been a fairly competitive person,” Hutchins said. “I enjoyed swimming at a younger age. I was pretty good at it, so it kind of drives the competitiveness. Once you start to win, you kind of want to keep winning and [that feeling] grows.”
Hutchins started school at UW in 2014 with a scholarship to be on Wisconsin’s swimming and diving team. The team’s coaches approached him and he seized this opportunity to experience a different way of life on the other side of the globe.
Coming into Madison, a totally different place than he is used to, and having to figure out everything by himself, Hutchins said the team offered a support system that really helped him get along and adjust to life and academics here.
“From not knowing what Wisconsin really is to being here is really cool,” Hutchins said. “I’m given the opportunity to live on the other side of the world, to raise really high competition, to train to my best abilities and to represent my country at an international level.”
To make sure he has a spot in the Olympics, Hutchins has been focusing all his strength from the beginning of this year to performing well at trials. He admits that being an athlete can be hard to balance with being a student. Along with hobbies like watching sports, practicing snowboarding and, well, sleeping — he said he doesn’t have much free time between training and schoolwork.
Moving forward, Hutchins will train even harder for the upcoming Olympic Games. He plans to go back home in New Zealand on July 21 and leave for Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 5. It’s still probably too far away to be too nervous or too excited about it, Hutchins said, and he just wants to make sure he seizes the opportunity and improves his skills during the Olympics.
After graduation, Hutchins wants to stick around in Madison and keep training in the pool, because swimming is the biggest part of his life.
“It has come to the point now where I feel if I stop, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself, and it’s changing to be more of my life than anything,” Hutchins said. “So I’d love to be able to stay around until 2020, get another Olympic Games in, because that would be great.”