This is the 21st of a season-long series that will feature updates on WVU swimming and diving alumni, as well as getting to know members of the current team.
|Former WVU Swimmer Rick Hyser (left) and members of the SEAL Team 2, 3rd Platoon during the Persian Gulf War (1989).
Former swimmer Rick Hyser has never been one to follow the traditional path. But marching to a different beat led him to be the first WVU swimmer to earn All-America honors and become a decorated Navy SEAL.
“In high school I would get suspended a bunch of times, my grades slacked off. I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it into college,” the Wayne, Pa., native said. “My senior year though, I really ran the table. I went from not making the state meet the year before, to winning the Pennsylvania State Championships, setting a state record and winning YMCA Nationals.”
During his senior year of high school, Hyser became one of the most sought-after recruits in the country. Coach Kevin Gilson of West Virginia University was able to convince Hyser to sign with the Mountaineers.
The signing of Hyser also caught the attention of many other top recruits who decided to come to Morgantown, creating a team that had top talent from seniors and newcomers.
“There was a total of nine really good freshmen who heard of me signing and also wanted to sign with West Virginia,” said Hyser. “The team had a lot of seniors, but the freshmen class was really strong.”
The combination of seniority and new talent propelled a team to an undefeated 9-0 record during the 1979-1980 campaign.
Following his time with the team, which also included Honorable Mention All-America in the 100 fly at the 1983 NCAA Championships, Hyser swam in the 1984 Olympic Trials, but failed to make the team.
“It was very tough to compete back then, as there wasn’t much money involved in swimming. A year after competing for West Virginia I came back for a second senior year to finish up my degree,” said Hyser. “I took a year off and coached up in Pennsylvania at Germantown Aquatic Club in Philadelphia for a team that had several Olympians on it.”
Not being someone to follow a normal career path, Hyser decided to enlist in the Navy and join the SEALs after attending a SEAL reunion party.
“A friend of mine had invited me to a SEAL team reunion party in Little Creek, Va., which had members who stormed the beaches of Normandy to those on active duty. I had a great time and decided to enlist in the Navy and become a Navy SEAL,” said Hyser. “Since then, my entire life has been with Naval Special Warfare, in one aspect or another.”
“I’m a retired SEAL of 22 years, became a sniper in 1990, retired in 2007 and still work with the sniper program as a civilian. It’s definitely a path less chosen,” said Hyser.
Part of the SEAL training regimen is Basic Underwater Demolition Training/SEAL or BUD/S, a 24-week course that tests potential SEALs in their stamina, toughness, leadership and ability to work as a unit. While this course is daunting to some, to Hyser, it was just another opportunity to test himself.
“At Germantown Aquatic Club I trained in distance swimming, and when I worked with coach Gilson his training was very strength oriented, so a combination of those two things really helped me out,” said Hyser. “Because I was able to swim all day, BUD/S was actually easy for me. It destroys a lot of people when they come in, but I was in such good shape that I actually had a lot of fun.”
Following his tenure with the seals which included serving in the sniper core and being deployed during the Persian Gulf War, Hyser retired from the SEALs and used his skills gained from his degree in education from WVU to teach sniper and swim classes.
“With my academics at West Virginia, the education degree I earned helps me teach to this day,” said Hyser. “I could teach a monkey how to fly the space shuttle. I teach a huge amount of classes and have been teaching with the sniper program for years thanks to my degree.”
His passion for the water, being the best he can be physically, and trying things that are out of the ordinary has made Rick Hyser one of the most decorated, and interesting alumni of the program.
“West Virginia made a huge impact on me. It was life-changing. I was basically a crazy person in high school and you see that in what I do now. I never marched to the beat of the same drum.”