Profile: Pioneer’s Tristan Serr put a lot into swimming – and took out even more

Tristan Serr says one of his greatest accomplishments during his four years in high school was taking chances and trying new things. He experienced what it’s like to step out of your comfort zone and push yourself, and even if you don’t accomplish a goal or two along the way, the end justifies the means.

In four years, Serr went from hating the prospect of swimming to being a captain of the Pioneer swimming and diving team – one of the best teams in the state. And while he didn’t break any pool records or qualify for the state meet, the entire experience was not only successful, but very meaningful in a big-picture kind of way.

And Tristan Serr is a big-picture kind of guy.

“I am most proud of the new things I tried, like swimming,” says Serr, a senior at Pioneer HS. “Getting myself to try new things was difficult, or course, but it proved crucial to my journey as an athlete and as a person. The character I am now is vastly different than the one from four years ago, and I definitely prefer who I am now.”

That “character” four years ago wanted nothing to do with swimming.

“I was actually very adamant about refusing to swim in high school and, at first, only ended up on the team to improve my water polo game,” he says. “I did swim prior to high school at Huron Valley for a number of WISC seasons, but I always hated it because I was always one of the slowest swimmers.”

Things quickly changed when he jumped into the pool at Pioneer. Thanks to the support of his teammates and coaches, he quickly started to enjoy swimming, especially the team-aspect of the sport.

“Swimming is a sport where you can race against yourself, using improvement as a baseline for success,” he says. “The team atmosphere was great, mostly because of the two captains that year, Matt-John McCormick and Danny Zacks. I really looked up to those two and they were the reasons why I wanted to be a swim captain. Coach Stef and Jesse were extremely welcoming to me even though I lacked speed at that time. Every concurring season after that was even more enjoyable and kept me on the team for good.”

Serr was never one of the fastest swimmers but he was among the hardest workers on a very talented team. He learned that you can out work someone but still not get to the wall first – but, again, think big picture.

“Until this year, I have found myself in a paradox where my hard work in practice didn’t translate to meets,” he says. “Even though my times were not in accordance with my work ethic, I did get Most Improved my freshmen year which validated my swimming for me.”

And Serr went out on top. In his final swims as a Pioneer, he set personal-best times in both of his primary events (the 200 and 500 freestyles) at the SEC meet. He swam the 100 free in the final 400-free relay, where he missed a state cut by less than a second.

“Personally, I didn’t get a state cut which was expected but still a little disappointing,” he said. “And canceling the state meet felt like a stab in the back, especially because we had the potential to win it all this year. I felt really bad for one of my co-captains, Koa Williams, who pushed himself so hard this year and was rewarded with two state cuts. Even though the season was cut short, this year’s team should be proud of our accomplishments.”

One of the accomplishments Serr is most proud of was being named captain. His coaches and teammates recognized his hard work – and that meant a lot to him.

“Being a captain this year was a distinct privilege and opportunity for me,” he says. “It was also a position that demanded responsibility from myself. At first, I was worried that I wouldn’t be respected by some of the faster boys but that wasn’t the case at all. It was really fun to be a leader and also be friends with everyone on the team. Being with fellow captains Vaughn Hajra and Koa, two of my good friends, made it even more pleasurable.”

Tristan, the son of Mike and Molina Serr, kept busy out of the water as well. He worked just as hard in the classroom where he recorded a 3.998 grade-point average and was a member of the Pioneer Symphony Orchestra and Ethics Bowl. He also played water polo all four years and golf for two years.

“I played golf for my first two years of high school mainly due to my grandfather’s assertion that it is a lifelong game,” he says. “I have seen a steady improvement in my game since working with Dane Dresch, my golf coach freshmen year.”

Serr skipped the links during his junior year to focus on swimming but had planned on playing his senior year before another opportunity presented itself. “I did plan to do golf again for my senior year but an opportunity to play in the pit orchestra came up so I decided to do that instead.”

Unfortunately, his final year of high school took a drastic turn last month. And like many seniors around the country, he’s having to deal with new and different types of challenges.

“What is going on now is near absurdity,” he says. “I am amazed not with the scope of change that COVID-19 has brought, but the pace that change occurred. Within mere days, I was descended from a mood of nonchalance into one of worry.”

He says one of his biggest issues with the quarantine is the lack of a schedule.

“No pools are open, I barely have any school work, no plans have been made, there aren’t any NBA games on,” he says. “I miss school a lot because unlike most students, I like being in school to learn and see everyone. The Zoom calls do bring about a sense of normalcy but hardly fill that void.”

Serr still has a big decision to make about his future.

“I’ve narrowed my choices to Georgetown and Michigan because those are the schools which have the best social science (pre-Law) departments out of the schools I applied to,” he says. “Either one would be a great choice, so I am very excited for my future.”

Swimming photos by Martha Hashimoto
Senior photo by Stephanie Baker