By James Hemker
This article is part of a running series The Daily sports staff will be publishing on graduating seniors.
Senior Abrahm DeVine is a two-time NCAA individual champion in the 400-yard IM (2018, 2019). A 15-time All-American, DeVine is the first Stanford man to claim back-to-back 400 IM titles since Tom Wilkens (1997-98). Following his junior season when was named the Pac-12 Swimmer of the Year, DeVine was named a member of Team U.S.A. for the 2018-19 season. He holds the school record in the 400 IM (3:35.29) by four seconds, and he also has top-three times in the 200-yard free (1:32.77), 200-yard back (1:39.22) and 200-yard IM (1:40.35). The Daily’s James Hemker sat down with DeVine to reflect on his time, both in and out of the water, at Stanford.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): How did you get into swimming, and what made you decide to pursue it into college?
Abrahm DeVine (AD): My mom got me in the water pretty early as an infant, and then I joined a summer league team when I was 5 years old, and I loved it. I started on a year-round team when I was 6 years old. I stuck with that program and made friends and had my core group there all the way through high school.
Once I was in high school, I knew I would be able to swim in college. I wasn’t sure at what level or at what colleges yet. I knew I wanted to go to Stanford early on because two girls on my club team went here as I was entering high school. I wasn’t that good though at the beginning of high school, but then by sophomore and junior year, I started making junior nationals and nationals. I reached out to the Stanford coaches and they were interested.
TSD: Do you remember your first practice?
AD: I remember our first dry-land practice. I didn’t do any weights in high school and we did this circuit with a squat/jump section, a pullup section and a pushup station. We would do like 15 rounds, and I fell way behind the intervals. People were passing me, and I was completely miserable. I remember this distinct thought I had, like, “Wow, is this college swimming? I don’t think I can do this.” I remember my quads were sore for an entire week because the next week we did the same circuit and walking into practice my legs were still hurting from the last time.
TSD: From then up to the end of last month, does it feel like its gone by in a blur?
AD: Yeah, I’d say that. It went by really quick. Still, each year had a distinct feel to it, which helped since I never felt stagnant, and it never dragged on. I always had bigger goals and I wanted to keep improving in the sport, but, yeah, it really flew by.
TSD: What are some of your favorite moments that you’ve had?
AD: I remember this relay we had sophomore year. There were three other guys, and we called ourselves the “Dream Team.” It was kind of just this weird scrappy group of guys. It was the 400-free relay, but I was a 400 IMer, one guy was a butterflyer, another guy did the 200 free and then we had one true 100 freestyler. We were all really good friends.
We were seeded like 19th at NCAAs in this outside lane in prelims, and then we finished the morning and got fourth. It was completely sick. We were racing all these teams with really notable sprinters, and it felt like something we accomplished as friends together. We were all like, “How did we even beat anybody, let alone get fourth?” I remember that being really, really cool and the team being so pumped about it.
TSD: On the other end of the spectrum, were there any notably hard moments for you?
AD: When we underperformed as a team was always tough. Going through a meet with a notable lack of energy sucks. Without that energy you’re just swimming and hurting yourself basically. There have been a couple instances of that over the years, absolutely.
TSD: Did the 400 IM choose you or did you choose it?
AD: It was my big event in high school, and I came into college with it as the focus. The one thing I really like about the IM is it’s all strokes and it incorporates speed and endurance. Anything you are doing will help you progress in that event. I think through better training, coaches, lifting and all this new stuff, I also spread out from the 400 IM. By this year, I felt like I could spread out and choose to swim other things.
At the same time, it felt like my baby and it got me into college. It has consistently been my best event. I’m really proud of what I’ve put into the event and what I’ve gotten out of it. I’d say it chose me and then by the end I had chosen it back.
TSD: What was it like being able to claim the 400 IM title last year and then come back and defend it?
AD: Last year was absolutely awesome. I was doubting myself after my morning swim because I felt like I went pretty hard and I still didn’t have a great time. It just didn’t feel very good, and there was such a great field with Olympians and other really fast dudes. I still have a photograph in my head of my last lap, looking over and seeing that I was winning. It was really awesome. Winning was kind of a surprise, but I also knew that I had worked really hard and put a lot into that year.
This year it was a little bit less of a surprise, and it felt like I had to defend the title. The field was also a little bit weaker and an entirely new field from last year, so that made me feel like, “Okay, this is my baby, all these newcomers cannot take it from me.” I felt more relieved with the title this year rather than being excited.
TSD: Are you a superstitious swimmer?
AD: [laughing] No I don’t think I’m organized enough to do that. I think if I needed to have music going or something, inevitably, I would be running late and miss that and it would psych me out. Throughout my swimming career, I would show up to meets late and just jump in the pool. I guess I obviously like to warm up and be pretty relaxed. I try to take my time with things and not feel rushed, but there isn’t anything specific that needs to happen.
TSD: You’ve had some experience swimming internationally with Team U.S.A., could you talk about those experiences?
AD: I did one trip in high school, but it was more for experience and less about how I swam. I wasn’t really representing Team U.S.A., they just wanted to give some experience to young, up-and-coming swimmers. My first real year was during sophomore year of college at Short Course Worlds. It’s more of a low-level national team meet. It was right after the Olympics, so a lot of people were taking a bit of a break and toning it down. I got selected for that, and it’s interesting because I’m used to racing people I know or know of, versus a bunch of strangers.
It’s a different environment, you’re with a totally different team, and with a different cap on. It’s still definitely cool. That summer, I made the big world’s team. That was a big surprise, I dropped a lot of time to do that and since no one had dropped out that meet, it felt more like I earned my place with the big dogs.
When I’m racing internationally, it feels less like a team honestly, compared to Stanford. They try to say you’re representing your country, and you are, but at the same time I don’t feel like the country is on my back. I don’t think any average person is going to sweat it if I don’t swim well. It feels like it’s more of me swimming for me. I made the U.S. team because I wanted to as it was a big goal of mine, so here I am.
TSD: What are your future plans, both swimming and non-swimming?
AD: For swimming, I’m not sure if I’m going to be staying here or somewhere else. The plan right now is just to train through 2020, but if I’m really liking it and enjoying it, I don’t see why I wouldn’t continue. Everything is pretty vague. It more just feels like a cool opportunity to be able to swim professionally. It feels like a new chapter, and I just want to explore that a little bit. Even training these past couple weeks has had a new feel to it. I’ve been on the same team here for four years, and I was on the same team before that for 12 years, so it’s fun to mix it up a little bit. But the basic plan is to keep swimming.
Other than that, I do not know what I am doing in terms of a career. I’ll get a degree in computer science and hopefully that will look good. [laughing] I guess I’ll look for a job, I don’t know. I think friends will have settled down a bit by then, so I’ll look for a cool city that has some nice vibes. I’ve always been swimming over the summers, so I’ve never had the chance to have a real internship or job or anything. That will also be a totally new thing, and it will be both necessary and interesting to see how it turns out.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.