Taking the Plunge: For the Bulakuls, Swimming is a Family Affair
Tyler Bulakul swimming
Teddy Bulakul swimming

Tyler Bulakul ’10, top, and Teddy Bulakul ’06 represented Thailand at the 2023 World Aquatics Masters Championships.

Read the Fall 2023/Winter 2024 Hotchkiss Magazine

By Chelsea Edgar

The Bulakul family gene pool might, in fact, be a swimming pool. Brothers Teddy ’06, Tim ’08, and Tyler ’10 grew up in Bangkok, Thailand, and their parents often took them to the beach or the pool to beat the intense heat. By the third grade, the boys were swimming for their British international school’s team. At Hotchkiss, they set records in Hixon Pool that stand to this day. And this summer, Bulakul Bearcats made waves together competing as a family and representing Thailand at the World Aquatics Masters Championships, a biennial event held in Japan in 2023—a testament to their unwavering commitment to excellence and the support they found within the Hotchkiss community.

For the Bulakuls, swimming is much more than a competitive sport; it’s a lifelong discipline that has bonded them as brothers and teammates. “It’s taught us a lot about accountability, about showing up to practice and putting in the work,” said Teddy, who swam at Johns Hopkins University after graduating from Hotchkiss. “It’s about camaraderie and grittiness, and those things have carried us through from when we were young to Hotchkiss and college and now in our professional lives.” After Hotchkiss, all three Bulakuls went on to swim for their respective colleges—Teddy and Tim at Johns Hopkins and Tyler at Amherst College, where he continued to break conference and college records. In recent years, Teddy and Tyler, who competed in the World Championships, have moved to far-flung parts of the world to pursue their careers: Teddy earned his MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management, resides in northern Virginia, and works in sales for Microsoft; Tyler earned his MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and returned to Bangkok, where their parents still live, to work in private credit investing at Ares Management. But in spite of the geographic distances among them, the Bulakul clan has stayed connected through the pool—and the brothers’ dedication to swimming has even inspired their parents, Suravut Bulakul and Camille Ma P’06,’08,’10, to take the plunge.

Bulakul family

Teddy Bulakul ’06, right, and Tyler Bulakul ’10, left, with their parents, Suravut Bulakul and Camille Ma P’06,’08,’10.

In August 2023, Teddy, Tyler, and Suravut competed in the World Aquatics Masters Championships held in Fukuoka, Japan, an event that drew more than 10,000 top swimmers ages 25 and over—with some competitors in their 90s—from more than 100 countries. Several of the swimmers were previous and current Olympians. Suravut raced in the 50-meter freestyle event, the culmination of six months of training; Camille, who had qualified for the championship but decided not to participate, cheered her family on from the pool deck. For the first time in decades, Teddy and Tyler swam on the same relay team, placing among the top 10 relay teams in the world for their age group in the 4x50-meter freestyle relay.

Teddy, who prefers sprints to long-distance swims (“Coach [Keith] Moon can attest that he swam me once in the 500-yard freestyle my prep year, and never again!” he joked), competed in the 50-meter butterfly, backstroke, and freestyle.

Tyler competed in several individual events, including the butterfly triple crown consisting of the 50-meter butterfly, 100-meter butterfly, and 200- meter butterfly. He ended up breaking the Thai national masters record for his age group in each event. He also placed in the top 10 in the world for his age category in both the 200-meter butterfly and 50-meter backstroke.

Teddy and Tyler broke multiple Thai national masters records for their age groups, including both relays in which they competed together.

After their final race, the Bulakuls celebrated by indulging in their family’s other favorite shared activity: eating. Fukuoka is known as the ramen capital of Japan, and the Bulakuls sampled no fewer than five different ramen establishments.

For Teddy and Tyler, the experience of rooting for their father marked a major role reversal. At the Masters Championship, Teddy said, “I was kind of the face behind the camera, whereas my dad had always been that person. To see him set a goal, and then to be there in person to watch him go for it, was really a lot of fun.”

As seasoned competitors, Tyler added, he and Teddy could help their father with his pre-race jitters: “We’ve done this so much that it’s second nature, but our parents would sometimes freak out, like, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to finish this,’” Tyler said. “But we would just tell them, ‘It’s all going to be fine. Just don’t go out too fast, and pace yourself.’”

Bulakuls in Mischianza

Teddy Bulakul ’06 and Tim Bulakul ’08 on the boys swimming team in the 2006 Mischianza. The team had a 10-0 record and placed third in the New England Championships.

‘VERY BEST YEARS’ FOR HOTCHKISS SWIMMING

At Hotchkiss, the Bulakuls were known for inspiring their peers with their passion for swimming and water polo, said head boys varsity and JV swim coach Keith Moon P’13,’16, who is also the E. Carleton Granbery Teaching Chair, instructor in English, history, and Russian language, and a Lufkin Prize recipient. “All three Bulakuls were remarkable in their willingness to do whatever was expected or needed for the team,” Moon said. “For eight years, we had at least one Bulakul on our team, and those were some of our very best years in terms of swimming and water polo. They were instrumental not just as exceptional swimmers, but also as the sorts of team leaders who made other swimmers want to join.”

Tim, the middle Bulakul, was captain of both the boys swimming and water polo teams during Tyler’s lower-mid year. Tyler currently holds the Hotchkiss individual record in the boys 100-yard butterfly and was part of the 200-yard medley relay team whose record remains unbroken to this day; Teddy was a member of the team that still holds the school record for the 200-yard freestyle relay two decades later.

After college, Teddy kept up a regular swimming routine by squeezing in laps in the morning before work, which he says helps him start each day with the right mindset. “You’re setting yourself up for the day, for the week, for the month, for the year,” he said. But Tyler stopped swimming for almost a decade after college, burned out from years of competitive racing. At the beginning of this year, he said, he was finally ready to get back into the pool. Within a few months, Tyler noticed a big difference in his mental and physical well-being. “Everything just kind of clicked,” he said.

Around the time Tyler began swimming again, his parents had joined The Royal Bangkok Sports Club, their childhood club’s master’s team, to stay active. As they watched Tyler lose more than 40 pounds and get back into shape, he explained, they decided they wanted to push themselves, too. Together, Teddy, Tyler, and their parents set their sights on the 2023 World Aquatics Masters Championships. Now that they’ve achieved that milestone, they’re already looking ahead to the 2024 World Aquatics Masters Championships scheduled to be held in Doha, Qatar.

Until then, the Bulakuls plan to keep each other accountable across continents and time zones, Teddy and Tyler said. They have a family text thread where they share their swimming workouts—and, of course, photos of the meals they eat afterwards. “We love to eat,” Teddy said. “My theory is that we can either eat less or work out more, and there’s no way we’re going to eat less.”

Bulakuls diploma

The Bulakuls earned a top 10 relay diploma at the world championships.

 

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