A World-Class Law Student
Stop by the campus pool most days of the week and you are likely to find Mark A. Fretta swimming laps. In passing, you might mistake him for any other student getting a little exercise between classes. But then you will likely notice his form and speed and realize he’s not an average student athlete — or law student.
Raised in Portland, Ore., Fretta started swimming competitively at age 7. He was a freshman in high school, however, before his running ability was fully evident; he took a run test in gym class and broke the school record. “Right after that, the track coach came looking for me,” he said. Already a member of a local swim team, Fretta eventually joined the school track team as well. By his senior year, he was an All-American swimmer and All-State track and cross country runner.
For college, he chose a small, NCAA Division I private school. “I wanted to be a big fish in a little pond,” said Fretta, who attended the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. In addition to earning a degree in economics, he was an All-Conference Team member in swimming and track.
Despite his athletic prowess, Fretta’s priority “was always education, not athletics.” After taking a pre-law course in college, he entertained thoughts of law school. Following his junior year, he tested the waters as a summer intern at Bullivant Houser Bailey PC in Portland. He returned to work in the firm’s business litigation group after graduation.
“The most defining moment in my career development came when I was sitting at my computer at 2 a.m., doing data entry,” he said. “I looked across the way and saw a janitor vacuuming. I realized that if I was going to work that hard, it had better be what I love doing. I knew then that I wanted to study law.”
He also knew he wasn’t ready to give up his athletic aspirations. In March 2001, Fretta moved to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., as a member of the USA Triathlon National and the Elite Triathlon World Championship teams. By July 2006, he was ranked first in the world in Elite Triathlon — until a cycling crash left him with a broken clavicle. The injury and subsequent surgery effectively eliminated him from the sport.
His athletic career on hold, Fretta enrolled at Willamette University College of Law in the fall of 2006. “Leaving the training center was really hard for me,” he said. “I went from being one of the best in the world to law school, where I was just an ordinary student. I went from expecting great results from myself to just trying to survive.”
Following his first year of law school and a year of rehabilitation, Fretta returned to the Olympic Training Center. From May 2007 to July 2008, he worked to regain his national ranking. Last summer, he traveled to Beijing, China, as an alternate on the U.S. Olympic Team. Shortly afterward, he returned to Willamette to begin his second year of law school. A member of the Class of 2010, he continues to train between attending class and studying.
Despite being one of the best triathletes in the world, Fretta has remained fairly anonymous among his classmates. “I have no social life outside of sports,” said Fretta, who continues to compete on the professional triathlon circuit. “My days involve eating, sleeping, studying and training. But I’m OK with that. It’s what I have to do to achieve my goals.”
A member of the USA Triathlon board of directors, Fretta plans to stay connected to the sport he loves long after he is eligible to compete. “I’m dedicated to pursuing a career as a sports agent,” he said. “I’ve established many connections through my involvement in athletics and corporate sponsorship that, coupled with my law degree, will help me reach my goal.”