Olympic Swimmer Zach Harting ’20 Looks to the Future

Nov. 2, 2021

By Holly Hinson

Like many young boys, Zach Harting loved Batman. He admired particularly the “cool” weapons and imaginative gadgetry like Batman’s utility belt and other devices created in the Bat Cave. He thought to himself he might want to design nifty gadgets himself one day. Those early thoughts just may have led him to his decision to seek a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Speed School. He completed his Bachelors in ME and his MEng in Engineering Management,   graduating in 2020.

A native of Huntsville, Alabama, Harting moved to Louisville to attend Speed School in 2015. Now, only six years later, Harting is not only a Master’s level engineer but an accomplished Olympic swimmer, amassing an impressive record of achievements in the swimming world.

In his freshman year, he earned second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Championship and made the World Junior Team for Team USA. In 2016’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) trials, he placed seventh, missing the Olympic team by 1.12 seconds, to Michael Phelps. In 2017, he qualified for the World University Games and won two gold medals there for relays. In 2019, he won a bronze at Pan-Pacific Championships for Team USA, which qualified him for the 2019 World Championships, the biggest swimming meet second only to the Olympics.

In 2021, he won at the Olympic trials and placed ninth in the Olympics, missing the final by just .04 of a second. “Just to have that experience to be able to go and come back and be an Olympian has been the most exciting part,” said Harting. Since graduation, Harting has swum and traveled for three years for the DC Tridents, a professional swim team that is part of the International Swimming League (ISL). With the team this year, he spent all of September in Italy, and leaves on November 7 for the city of Eindhoven in the Netherlands to spend the rest of the month there.

Harting said being a scholar-athlete in his years at Speed School was not easy, but two things helped him the most to balance the demands of studies and sports –support from both professors and coaches, and Speed School classmates who became friends. “Professors were really willing and able to work with me when I missed class to travel to Tokyo for nationals, for example,” said Harting. “They said not to worry about it and I could make up the test when I got back.”

Making friends with other mechanical engineering students in the classroom also helped Harting fill in the gaps on notes or anything he had missed. “Other students understood and supported me,” he said. “Especially when you are a junior and senior, you have most of your classes with the same students and there was a real camaraderie with that. It is doable to do both at a high level,” said Harting. “Hopefully, I’m proof, and there were those that came before me who did it and showed me the way, so now hopefully I can show you guys the way, too.”

How did Harting take what he was learning from the classroom to the pool? The physics of engineering connects directly to swimming, said Harting. “For example, fluid dynamics and intermediate dynamics classes were applying to what I was doing in the water,” he said. “I remember talking to my professor and we came to an understanding of ‘this is how it works based off the equations’ but then you have all these variables. There’s abstract thinking, and the ability to think outside the box in order to figure out what you need to do to increase the efficiency in your stroke for example,” said Harting. “It’s like that light bulb moment, which is the reason we’re in class, to learn stuff, and when you can have the epiphany in class and be like, ‘Aah, that’s how it applies okay,’ and then I get to use that and take that back into the pool,” he said. “It makes it personal for me.”

Harting said he plans to continue swimming at least through 2024, and will re-evaluate his options then. “By then, I will have been graduated for four years, so I may want to ease back into engineering,” he said.”

“I’ve worked my whole life to go to the Olympics and if I take that same application and apply it back towards engineering there’s nothing that I can’t relearn or learn how to do,” said Harting. “Hopefully, I can work my way up through engineering and into a leadership role. That’s why I got the Master’s in Engineer Management,” he said. “I like to see the big picture and I feel that I’d be good at understanding what the task is, breaking it down, becoming comfortable with that, and then being able to show other people how to do it.”