Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe. Danica Patrick and Aaron Rodgers. Zach and Julie Ertz. For many, power couples in sports inherently carry a certain badge of coolness. Besides their athletic prowess, their unattainable lifestyle oozes swag and induces admiration and envy. At Vassar College, the ultimate “power couple” resides within the lanes of Kresge Pool.
Junior Max White and sophomore Jesse Ecklund each tout memorable Vassar careers. White was Liberty League (LL) Rookie of the Year and is the reigning 200-yard and 500-yard freestyle LL champion. Ecklund had a first-year campaign for the ages, capturing the LL Rookie of the Year, the 500-yard freestyle and 200-yard backstroke LL championships, and being named an All-American in her school-record-breaking 200-yard backstroke. When asked about her individual goals for the current season, Ecklund responded, “My biggest goal this season is I would like to make it back to NCAAs in the [200-yard backstroke]. After that, who knows?” White responded similarly: “My main goal is to try to make NCAAs. I’d like to hold on to the 500 free. I have won it the past two years. I won the 200 free last year. I’d like to win that again.” Their goals may seem ambitious, but it’s understandable—when one puts their accolades together, their collective dominance in the pool rightfully earns White and Ecklund the title of Vassar’s premier sports power couple.
White and Ecklund definitely have an undeniable chemistry. They frequently answered questions interchangeably, making it comically hard to get an independent answer from either of them, especially when the question involved swimming. When explaining aspects of swimming that non-swimmers don’t notice, the couple eagerly and articulately described the differences between fast and slow pools, the effects of depth and discrepancies in air quality. Cutely enough, when describing each other as competitors, their previously eager demeanors faded into bashfulness.
“Max as a swimmer is just incredible … He consistently puts 100 percent into every race … He does a really great job of motivating people around him. People catch on to his work ethic if they want to do it as well. He’s a very positive influence on the entire team in every way,” Ecklund, with a soft admiration, characterized her partner. White gushed, “Jesse has a lot of similar attributes, but in a very different manner. For Jesse, I feel like a lot of the motivation she brings is just kind of the quiet worker. I don’t think she gets enough credit for how hard she works in the pool because she’s up there with a lot of the guys during sets and pushes a lot of the girls.” Each replied to the other with a sweet “thank you.”
Despite their undeniable cuteness as a couple, their fierce competitiveness as individuals certainly does not disappear inside or outside of the pool. “We both push each other, especially when it comes to certain sets,” affirmed Ecklund, while White continued, “Yeah, it’s really good because I’m not a super natural backstroker, or my stroke has never been as good as hers. So whenever we actually do shorter stuff, especially with backstroke, it’s honestly pretty close. Even [with] freestyle, it’s like, how far can I get in front of you … Even if you’re not exactly the same speed you can still train with different speeds.” Outside the pool, it’s a bit less serious. “I would say we’re pretty competitive with dumb stuff like who can swipe the card in the door first,” joked Ecklund.
As a couple competing in the same sport, Ecklund and White inevitably spend long periods of time together in a competition setting, potentially leading to conflicts. The opportunity to train together in team practices is uncommon for athletes who date, so Ecklund and White made sure to address their status as teammates at the beginning of their relationship. White explained, “I think that is one thing we talked about when we started dating, like how do we do this … it’s been good that we both have a lot of friends and team[mates] separate from each other, and I think we definitely treat each other like teammates when we’re at [team]stuff … I think we’ve compartmentalized it well.” Ecklund confirmed, “Practice is a means [where] we try to just take everything else out of the equation: It’s just swimming at that point, which is very helpful.”
Vassar swimming’s next meet is the Ithaca Bomber Invitational, held from Dec. 6-8. The women’s team is currently on a twomeet winning streak, sitting at a 5-1 record, while the men float at 3-3. Ecklund and White excitedly spoke about the potential for the season, speaking on everything from championship season to enjoying their time as student-athletes. Their humility and charisma separately and together are evident to anyone who spends time with them. As far as their time in the pool is concerned, their commitment to the sport and their team remains the priority.
White summed it up perfectly with a simple statement: “We are just teammates and we happen to be dating.”