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Now-senior Jack Hamilton places first in the men's 100-yard backstroke event during last year's meet against Columbia at Sheerr Pool on Nov. 7, 2021.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

Jack Hamilton, a senior on the Penn men's swimming and diving team, has had a unique four years at Penn, and despite a difficult injury, has managed to make the most of them.

Last season, for the first time in his career, Hamilton made multiple appearances for Penn, posting a season-best and NCAA B Cut time of 47.60 in the 100-yard backstroke in the Ivy Championship preliminary rounds. He finished eighth in the 100 back, 16th in the 100 free, and 20th in the 50 free at the 2021-22 Ivy Championships.

From Knoxville, Tenn., Hamilton comes from a family of tennis players, with both his parents having played at the varsity level in college and his brother playing competitively. As luck would have it, though, his neighborhood’s tennis courts were located right next to the swimming pool, and it was there that he first found his affinity for the water.

He went on to collect several accolades at the high school level, captaining his school team during his junior and senior years. He was a recipient of the Warren Heiser Outstanding Scholar Athlete Award and was selected for the All-State and Scholastic All-American teams five times each.

He remembers his recruitment to Penn fondly.

“Recruiting is kind of a long process," Hamilton said. "During the visits, you have individual meetings with the coach, and that’s when I knew that I wanted to go to this school. I went to a couple of schools before, but I just loved Penn. That’s when I committed.”

However, during his initial months at Penn, disaster struck. He injured his back, fracturing two vertebrae. 

“I guess the hardest part was that it happened so early on,” Hamilton said. "I had made it my goal to swim for a [Division I] team since pretty early on in my life, but here I was, three weeks into my freshman year, in the emergency room with stress fractures.”

An injury like that would test the mental toughness of most people, but Hamilton looked at the bright side of things.

“I got to experience college as a normal student and experienced retirement before it actually came," Hamilton said. "I think a lot of people struggle with finding other aspects of their identity after being done with their collegiate sport. I got to do that earlier, which was cool.”

While injured, Hamilton made sure to stay involved, getting to know his teammates and coaches while attending practices and serving as a volunteer assistant to the team when required, despite not knowing whether he would be able to compete at the same level again.

These doubts were cast away in his junior year when he got back into the water again. 

“After two years of being out of the water, I was finally cleared to practice," Hamilton said. "That was a special moment for me.”

The senior then managed to compete at a number of meets last season, including the Ivy Championships where he posted several strong finishes, and now is looking ahead at a senior season he hopes he and his team can make the most of.

“We had a great year last year," Hamilton said. "We finished the Ivies behind Harvard and Princeton. It'd be great to take a stab at Harvard this year. I think that'd be that'd be a big team goal. That's what we have our sights set on.”

This will be Hamilton’s last season for the Quakers, and his collegiate career has been unlike many others’. It is his optimism and grit, though, that truly sets him apart.