Lori Riley: Seeing Homeless Man Gives Trinity Swimmer Doug Curtin Food For Thought

As Doug Curtin drove to the Capitol every day to his internship, he would notice the same homeless man standing on a corner.

"It didn't sit right with me that right outside this beautiful Capitol where all these people were working, there's this guy … I started bringing him food," said Curtin, who was a Trinity College sophomore at the time. "Like an apple or a bagel from our dining hall — I'd kind of sneak it out and I'd give it to him. We started talking.

"I started realizing it wasn't just food, there were a lot of other issues. Housing. Getting bus passes, stuff like that. I thought, 'What can I do? How can I help?'"

Curtin, 22, of Wayland, Mass., swam for four years at Trinity and was a team captain for the last two. Not only is he graduating Sunday with a double major in political science and educational studies with a 3.7 GPA, he also helped the swim team from cellar-dweller status in the NESCAC to a respectable seventh-place finish in the conference meet this year, setting personal records along the way.

He was busy. But how could he help the man he met, Jake, and other homeless people?

Curtin did a little research and the fall of his junior year, he started a Food Recovery Network program at Trinity, the first in Connecticut, in which college dining halls donate leftover food to soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Every Friday, Curtin and other swim team members would go to the dining hall — where workers would package the food — collect it and put it in his Jeep and drive to the McKinney Shelter in Hartford.

"We built a good relationship with them," Curtin said. "It meant a lot to some of the other people who were helping me. I'd experienced that with Jake because I'd had that friendship with him. Those small interactions do mean a lot. To start building those relationships and seeing the impact it had, even if it was just bringing food once a week, really did go a long way."

Curtin will talk about his experiences Sunday as the student speaker at Trinity's graduation. In a few weeks, he will be off to start an internship with the New Jersey Devils in the team's community investments division, which he hopes will lead to a full-time job.

The youngest of three siblings, Curtin started swimming in second grade. He swam and played soccer at Wayland High School. When he started looking for a college, Trinity seemed like a good fit.

His freshman year, the Bantams finished last in the NESCAC championships with an interim coach. Coach Carlos Vega was hired in Curtin's sophomore year and that year, the team only had nine swimmers qualify for the conference championships. Williams won the NESCAC title with 2,066.5 points. Trinity finished last with 209.

With a renewed emphasis on offseason training, led by the captains, Trinity started to improve in Curtin's junior year.

"A lot of it was just teaching the underclassmen how to train more effectively, how to approach racing, how to handle our offseason training." Vega said. "Doug played a vital role in that. In the NESCAC, the captains play a large part in the offseason. A lot of it was the upperclassmen holding the teams accountable to the expectations of the coaching staff in order to change the culture."

Curtin didn't swim for a club team in high school. When he was trying to help mold Trinity into more of a team rather than a group of individual swimmers trying to achieve their own goals, his high school team mentality was important.

"As a captain, I was trying to transition into a different work ethic and a different work style — less of an individual mentality and more of a group mentality," he said. "I think what comes with club swimming, which I never experienced, is it's very individualized. Everybody just goes to those big meets and swims.

"My high school team instilled in me that it was a team effort and that helped me try to shift people into that mindset. There's a lot of times where you're going to swim what you may not necessarily feel comfortable swimming but it's for the good of the team."

This year, Trinity finished seventh in the NESCAC meet with 617 points, its highest finish in program history. Curtin advanced to the finals of the 400 individual medley and the 200 backstroke and his name will be on the school's record board with the 4x200 relay team.

"A lot of it was due to the leadership of not just him, but his class," Vega said. "He was the voice of the team both during practice, during meets, in the locker room, during team activities. He'd be the first one in the door and the last one out.

"But then it's what he did outside of that. Being involved in community service. He started the chapter here for the Food Recovery Network. That's the men's swim team charity. It's been passed down. It's in good hands next year."

Over the last two years, Curtin and his teammates delivered more than 4,000 pounds of food to the McKinney Shelter. It all stemmed from his chance encounter with Jake, with whom he is still friends.

"I think it showed me how fortunate I was to have safety nets," Curtin said. "If I ever fell on hard times, I knew I had people to turn to. It showed me that no person shouldn't have that. No matter what the circumstances are. He should have those safety nets and friendships to turn to. That's sort of what motivated me to do the food recovery stuff. One thing I realized going to the shelter – there are young, old, white, black, Asian people there — it's everybody. It could be anybody.

"I started to realize and get some of my friends to realize it, like as much as you think you can't make these small differences, one small relationship with this guy has changed his life. And it's changed mine, too. It's moved me in a way to start thinking about career paths I wasn't thinking about maybe two years ago. It's a long-lasting friendship. He's one of my good friends."

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