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A fish takes to Broadway

Former Denison swimmer Lowell Byers hopped out of the pool and onto stages across the country.

By Jack Copeland

Growing up watching his father perform in Broadway musicals, it’s no surprise that Lowell Byers chose to major in theater at a liberal arts college that counts Hal Holbrook, Jennifer Garner and Steve Carrell among its graduates.

But Denison also offered Byers the opportunity to pursue another talent, swimming. Through four years as a student-athlete, he excelled in working with a cast of performers – whether it was the teammates with whom he won four Division III championships in relay events, or fellow thespians in the six campus plays in which he played lead roles.

“Lowell is a tremendous example of the quintessential Division III athlete,” says Craig Hicks, Denison’s sports information director. “He was a tremendous student. He excelled at the highest level in the pool and he was dedicated to his craft (acting) while in college.”

Now, Byers is setting a fast pace in his chosen profession, having written plays and performed on stage literally from coast to coast – from Off Broadway in his hometown of New York City to playing Don Pedro in the Shakespeare comedy “Much Ado About Nothing” last fall as a master of fine arts candidate at the University of San Diego.

He also has collected a few television and film credits along the way, including portraying the cruel Roman emperor Caligula in a History Channel mini-series.

Last summer, veteran actor Austin Pendleton directed the 2008 Denison graduate and New York’s Abingdon Theater Company in “Luft Gangster,” a play written by Byers and funded through a Kickstarter campaign.

Byers has flown high in both athletics and acting – an ability one is tempted to joke may have been inherited from his great aunt, Margaret Hamilton, who famously played the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. But in fact, his success is a product not only of his pride in his acting family, but also his own passion and work ethic.

“We were never sure how he managed his time so well,” Hicks recalls. “He must have slept three hours a night.”

During years when Denison challenged perennial Division III swimming team champion Kenyon for supremacy both nationally and in the North Coast Athletic Conference, Byers earned all-American recognition 26 times and claimed 11 NCAC individual titles.

He also teamed up for Division III relay titles in the 400- and 800-meter freestyle relays.

Annually, as he seriously began conditioning for an upcoming season in the pool at Denison, Byers was also engaged on stage, typically acting in seven performances of a fall production. He played roles ranging from Shakespeare’s Romeo to the sole performer in a play he wrote about his family.

He collected reviews not only for his characters on stage, but also in the pool when he was named national swimmer of the month by CollegeSwimming.com in December 2006.

So, is Byers the quintessential Division III athlete? He surely did more than act the part.

Nominated by Craig Hicks, sports information director at Denison University.