Heart of a Champion: Tanner Filion ’23
National champ Tanner Filion ’23 says his teamates and coaches make him stronger, faster ... and happier.
On March 19, 2022, Tanner Filion, ’23 won the NCAA Division III National Championships in the 200 backstroke in a record-breaking performance he never saw coming. The then junior’s time of 1:41.49 not only smashed the previous record by two seconds, it was a hairsbreadth from the qualifying time for Division I Nationals. Filion also made Whitman history as one of the few Blues to win a national championship in any sport.
After eating eggs for breakfast for eight consecutive days, on the morning of the 200 backstroke the psychology (pre-med) major opted for a bagel. The extra carbs might have played a role in supercharging his swimming that day, but Filion attributes his solo win that day to another thing that fuels him—his teammates’ and coaches’ unwavering encouragement and support.
It was, in fact, the swim team’s culture that drew the swim star to Whitman in the first place. He describes it as the same culture he’d embraced on the team he’d competed with through high school but didn’t think he’d find again. Of both his youth swim team and Whitman, he says, “There’s an emphasis on loving the sport,” adding, “We have fun, but when it’s time to compete we know how to work hard too.”
Fun with his teammates, support from his coaches and intermittent breaks from the pool have actually made him a stronger swimmer. (Growing five inches to his full height of 6 feet, 3 inches since graduating high school certainly didn’t hurt.)
From the outset, Filion knew his teammates had his back. He recalls meeting the entire team during his recruiting trip—and one person who stood out. He encountered future teammate and mentor Easton Powell ’20 when Powell was sitting down. “I was like, ‘He’s kind of big for that desk,’” recalls Filion. Almost immediately, two things became clear: At 6 feet, 8 inches Powell had a commanding presence—and a big heart to match. Filion describes Powell as “the nicest, happiest dude I’ve ever met,” adding, “He always took good care of me.”
Other teammates have been generous with their support too. After qualifying for Nationals at the Northwest Conference regional meet, while most of his teammates were enjoying their offseason, Filion had to power through a month of solo training. But thanks to his friends, he rarely swam alone—they took turns pacing him through his workouts. “I was really fried on swimming and [my teammates] came every day and helped me a ton,” he says.
The coaching staff also played a huge role in Filion’s prowess in the pool. During his first year, Kevin Ewing, an assistant coach at the time, pulled him aside. Filion remembers him saying, “You have a lot of potential. If you start hitting the gym and putting on some muscle, you can do a lot.” He feels the strength training routine he adopted at Whitman propelled him to his recent victory and podium finishes in multiple events at Nationals.
Then there’s Coach Jenn, whom Filion refers to as the GOAT (greatest of all time). Filion says Head Coach Jennifer Blomme, whose many accolades include 11 Northwest Conference Swim Coach of the Year titles, has a knack for giving every swimmer what they need to be successful in the pool and beyond.
Beyond the Pool
According to Filion, the Whitman swim team’s high-fun, low-pressure environment has not only supercharged his swimming, it’s also allowed him to excel in academics and a variety of other extracurricular. Filion’s Whitman experience includes playing the tuba with the concert band, kayaking and rafting with the Outdoor Program, skiing at nearby Bluewood, taking a leadership role in the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, serving as vice president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, and playing for Whitman’s ultimate frisbee team. “I could have gone to some small Division I school, but I wouldn’t have been able to do all that,” he says.
And while swimming practice takes a significant chunk of time out of Filion’s schedule, it gives him plenty in return. Besides providing community, friendship and an outlet for stress, the structure it provides helps him academically.
“I’ve never skipped a workout to do my homework,” he says. “I’ve actually found that during the offseason it’s harder to get work done because I don’t have that time crunch.”