By Marty Farmer
Matt Farmer has traveled around the world during his remarkable water polo career, with pool stops in Australia, Hungary, Italy, South Korea and Peru.
After a brief return to visit with family this month in his hometown, LaGrange, Farmer will accrue more frequent flier miles en route to Spain where he'll play professional water polo for the club team CN Sabadell.
"Traveling the world has helped me develop as a player and as a person," Farmer said. "I'm thankful every day to play water polo in so many countries. I've had the opportunity to live in and visit different countries and immerse myself in those cultures."
His upcoming stay in Spain comes fresh off a whirlwind summer in which Farmer was a member of the USA Men's National Team. The Americans dominated the Pan American Games with a 6-0 record and outscored their opponents (117-27), highlighted by an 18-6 victory over Canada in the final.
Team USA won its seventh straight gold medal in men's water polo at the Pan American games and secured qualification for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. Earlier this summer, Team USA placed ninth at the FINA World Championship in Gwangju, South Korea.
"I started training with the senior team in June and then made the trips to FINA and the Pan Am Games," Farmer said. "I play center forward and center defender as a relief guy for players in foul trouble or who needed a rest. It's been exciting to test myself against some of the top senior teams and players in the world."
After a promising start in youth water polo, Farmer flourished at Fenwick High School as a three-time state champion and Illinois Water Polo Player of the Year in 2012 and 2013. During his brilliant career with the Friars, Farmer had 352 goals, 148 assists and 159 earned exclusions in 110 games. He also excelled in swimming.
"Matt did some incredible things while at Fenwick," water polo coach Kyle Perry said. "He arrived as a somewhat unassuming freshman, but the coaching staff knew that we had something special with him. Matt helped continue Fenwick's tradition of being very successful in both swimming and water polo."
While most athletes would cherish an athletic career like Farmer's run at Fenwick, he was just getting started. To paraphrase Horace Greeley's famous phrase, "Go West, young man," Farmer chose UCLA for college.
"It was definitely different coming out to LA," Farmer said. "I knew when I returned home to Chicago for Christmas, I had gotten a little soft. My skin was not as thick anymore."
Along with earning a degree in psychobiology, Farmer won three more water polo championships (NCAA titles in 2014, 2015, 2017) with the Bruins before he graduated.
"Going to UCLA was probably the best decision of my life," he said. "It completely changed me. I learned how to be consistent every day and other lessons that I'll carry with me the rest of my life."
As a Chicago kid on a roster loaded with elite players from California, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Farmer worked harder than ever.
"I really had to learn the system and how UCLA plays water polo during my first year," Farmer said. "After that, I was competing for a center position against a couple of guys who were really strong. I was in the gym five or six days week, put on 20 pounds and spent extra time in the pool to earn a starting spot and become the best player I could."
He capped off his collegiate career by playing a key role during the Bruins' run to the 2017 NCAA title, highlighted by a 7-5 win over rival USC in the championship match
"The UCLA-USC rivalry is so special especially in LA," Farmer said. "As much as you don't want it to get personal, fans shout at you. One side is blue and the other side is red. There's really nothing like it."
Looking ahead, Farmer is focused on playing water polo in Spain and making the U.S. Olympic team. The 24-year-old envisions a career in sports psychology or coaching as viable options.
Regardless of what his future holds, Farmer's work ethic is a given.
"Coming from the Midwest out to UCLA, there was definitely a point when I wondered if I really wanted to do it," Farmer said. "I realized though I was out there for a reason, which was to get a college education and play water polo. It would be a shame if I didn't give it everything I had before deciding whether it's for me or not. I decided that I'm going to work harder than everybody else."