For freshman swimmer Ido Haber, his transition to competing at the Division I level halfway across the world from Kiryat Bialik, Israel was made easier thanks to his two and a half years of mandatory service in the Israeli Air Force. In training with the Air Force, Haber learned an incredibly important lesson — to learn to adapt.
“[Serving in the military] has definitely helped me on a mental level,” Haber said. “Over there, if someone says ‘do something,’ you’ve got to do it. If your officer says something and you don’t like it, that’s your problem. You have to learn how to adapt.”
Adapting is something the 21-year-old Haber has taken to heart since his arrival in Madison in August. Coming in as a freshman three or four years older than the majority of student-athletes — and also having the additional hurdle of improving his English — Haber is in a situation that no other Wisconsin athlete in recent memory has experienced.
Haber’s roommate, freshman Matt Novinski, is from the small town of Grand Island, Nebraska. The 18-year-old comes from a completely different background than Haber, but living and adjusting to college together has been largely successful for the two incoming Badgers.
“Everything is new for both of us, so I feel like it’s kind of the same,” Novinski said. “He is older, and he’s a super mature dude and an awesome roommate, but we’re both on the same page despite the age difference.”
The age difference between Haber and the rest of his teammates has not been as awkward as he had initially anticipated.
“I really like the guys. They’re so great,” Haber said. “I feel the gap a little bit in terms of our ages, but at the end of the day we do the same stuff: we study, we swim together. There’s really not that much of a difference.”
One older swimmer that Haber has bonded with is 23-year-old volunteer assistant coach Matt Hutchins, who is continuing to train with the Badgers after exhausting his eligibility this past spring. Hutchins and Haber swim the same distance freestyle events, and the 2016 Olympian was a big factor in Haber’s decision to come to Wisconsin.
“With Ido, there kind of is a natural bond between us because he’s older. He hangs out with [senior captains Ryan] Stack and Victor [Goicoechea] a bit too,” Hutchins said. “When you have a freshman who comes in who’s like 20 or 21, there’s always that natural level of maturity.”
Haber’s maturity also comes from experience in the international realm at the highest level of swimming. An Israeli national record holder, Haber competed at the 2015 World Championships and narrowly missed a spot in the 2016 Olympics.
“I was 19 when I competed [at Worlds],” Haber said. “It’s a big deal coming from under-18 and the year after competing with all the big stars. It’s a big change that you need to adapt to.”
Haber sat out the entire last season and missed Worlds this past summer to maintain his NCAA eligibility.
“I didn’t know if I would be eligible to compete when I got here,” Haber said. “It’s because I’m 21 and a freshman, [the NCAA doesn’t] like internationals coming in when they’re older than Americans.”
Due to the NCAA compliance department sorting out Haber’s eligibility, he did not compete at Auburn last week. Haber opens his season on Thursday and will hit the water against Georgia in the longer freestyle races.
Hutchins thinks that Haber is going to make a huge impact as the season goes on.
“With a military background, you just know he’s going to be a hard worker,” Hutchins said. “I think by the end of the year, he’ll be really competitive and maybe make the national meet.”