A year ago, Conor Sokolowsky understood that his swimming career at William & Mary was in its final weeks. He was set to graduate with the Class of '23 and start his career as an investment banking analyst with Clearsight Advisors.
There were no regrets.
Then came the CAA Swimming and Diving Championships, in which Sokolowsky placed fourth in the 200 IM (1:46.41) and 200 back (1:45.49). Those times qualified him for an NCAA B cut in the IM and the 2023 Toyota U.S. Open in the back.
All of which got him to thinking: Because of the COVID outbreak in his freshman year, he had an extra season of eligibility. He had improved so much from his third to fourth season -- why not see what he could do with a fifth?
"It felt like I had just started to understand the sport," Sokolowsky said. "It all started the click. I knew what I had to do technically, strategically, within every race and across every stroke. I made huge progress there, and I wanted to see where that momentum could go.
"After talking with my coaches and looking into the Master of Accounting program here, I was able to feel very confident in my decision. And Clearsight was super, super helpful in deferring that job offer. I didn't have to walk away from a job, I just had to delay it."
W&M coach Nate Kellogg was on board from the start.
"He had an outstanding senior year," Kellogg said. "He earned the right to come back for a fifth year."
Sokolowsky had spent the summer of 2022 as an intern with Clearsight, an investment bank in Tysons Corner that helps entrepreneurs define their financial objectives. He said the company has a reputation for treating its workers right, so he wasn't surprised Clearsight allowed him to defer a year.
"They said they were really sad I'd be deferring but that from a human perspective, this fifth year is the best decision for me with how I reflected on it," Sokolowsky said. "It was really cool for them to step back and look at it through that human lens.
"I knew that sometime in the future, I would want to go back and get my Masters of Accounting because of the CPA license that you become eligible for with those credits. Down the road in finance, I'm interested in working potentially in a CFO role long term, and a lot of them have a background in accounting."
Another reason he wants to swim another season is that 2024 is an Olympic year. Not that Sokolowsky expects to make the team, but he'd like to qualify for trials.
"That can only be done in the Olympic year in a long-course meters pool," he said. "So in the spring, I'm hoping to really make an honest run at qualifying for that meet. When else in my life will I have the opportunity to see what I can do?
"I've sank well over 10,000 hours in the sport pushing the limits. If I'm already at my limit, so be it. I will feel infinitely happier just having the chance to see where I am. It all just came together with that fifth-year option."
Sokolowsky grew up in Williamsburg and graduated from Jamestown High, where he had two top-five finishes (200 IM, 500 free) in the 4A State Championship. His mother, Katherine, swam and ran cross country at the University of California, Davis. She teaches finance in the Mason School of Business.
His father, Jan, grew up in what was then called East Germany. He was there when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. He is an advisory editor with an academic journal. Conor has three younger sisters: Sophia, a junior gymnast at Brown; Helena, a senior at Jamestown who has been accepted for early admission at W&M; and Moira, an 8th-grader who Conor calls "quite a tour de force" in the pool.
Sokolowsky's resume will knock you out. Phi Beta Kappa inductee, 1693 Scholar, Rhodes Scholar finalist, three-time Class of '23 president, Williamsburg Planning Commissioner, member of Students for University Advancement, Division I swimmer … all while graduating Summa Cum Laude with a B.A. in economics.
Because of those commitments (and more, believe it or not), Sokolowsky acknowledges swimming never got his full attention. He loved being in the pool but said its main purpose was for "structuring my day or an outlet for stress."
Now that he has his B.A. and a job lined up, that balanced has shifted at least a little. Swimming is more of a priority.
"He sees the difference that made," Kellogg said. "It's paid dividends to not have so much on his plate for a year, and he's really seen what he's capable of."
Sokolowsky has among the 11 fastest times in program history in three individual events (100 back, 200 back, 200 IM) and two relays (800 free, 400 medley). The 100 and 200 backs were set at last year's CAA Championships.
"I'm hoping to make a nice run at some team records, too," he said. "Some of those guys were seniors my freshman year and they always seemed so much faster than me. Now, I'll be able to really make a run at it."
This article was originally published as a TRIBE SCRIBE spotlight by Dave Johnson on Tribe Athletics.