John Glenn Solo Diver Aiming To Stand Alone Atop Finals Podium

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

January 27, 2022

Jamie Miller is getting used to working alone.

As the lone diver on the Bay City John Glenn swimming & diving team, he spends his practice time by himself, working on the dives he hopes can get him a few steps higher on this year’s Finals podium.

“I’ve worked with plenty of really great coaches, and I’ve been to so many good camps,” Miller said. “I know a lot, and I actually know how to coach. I have a little TV, a little TiVo that records my dives, so 20 seconds later, I can walk up and watch it and see how to fix it. I’m a huge introvert, so I don’t have to talk to anyone and don’t have to worry about anyone.”

So far, so good for the senior, who is off to a strong start after finishing sixth at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals a year ago. 

He recently won the Tri-Cities championship at Saginaw Valley State, finishing with a two-day, 11-dive total of 454.5, which would have placed third at this past year’s Finals. He’s also broken the Oscoda pool record, scoring 273.55 for six dives to break the previous mark set in 1989.

“I think it’s going pretty well,” Miller said. “I had had a lot of time off because of COVID, but because of how hard I worked in middle school and my early years of high school, I just jumped right back in where I left off.”

Miller has been diving since seventh grade, although he discovered his skill and love for the sport almost by accident.

Bay City John Glenn diving“I joined the swim team because it was the only sport I could pick that wasn’t a scary contact sport,” he said. “I started swimming and I got a really bad cramp and was like, ‘This kind of sucks. I’m going to try this other thing.’ Then I actually started to like it.”

He began working with Bay Aquatics Diving and coach Janet Beattie, which he said helped him to grow a lot as a diver. While the pandemic forced him away from the club, the lessons learned have helped him continue to improve.

He was also fortunate to have a strong teammate in Trevor Post, who placed fourth as a senior at the 2021 Finals.

“Trevor’s the kind of guy – you know the saying, ‘Work hard, because someone out there is working harder than you?’ Trevor was that guy, and I got to dive with him every day,” Miller said. “We got so competitive, and if we weren’t on the same team, we would not have been as successful as we were.”

Without Post pushing him daily at practice, Miller said it can sometimes be tough to be self-motivated. But anytime he needs a push, he looks up at the record board in front of him.

“The record I’m trying to beat this year at the schools, it’s been there since 2004, it’s 300 points,” he said. “My highest score is 275, so it’s a reach. We’ve only had two dual meets, and I’ve only got to dive at one of them. We have eight more, so that’s what I’m really going for. It’s going to be close.”

Miller is not only looking to motivate himself every day, he’s also constantly having to get over the fear that creeps in when he’s on the board and prepares to dive. While he considers the sport to be very fun, he’s not afraid to admit it is also “horrifying.”

“I have to get over it every single time I get in the water,” Miller said. “It’s kind of like diving is like a constant mental battle. It’s not a physical sport, it’s all mental. You have to convince yourself of things. You can really learn a lot about your mind with diving.”

As he learns about himself and how to stay motivated, Miller does have a greater goal ahead of him. Only three of the top eight divers from last year’s Division 3 Finals graduated, including two of the top five. Miller has crunched the numbers, and as he sees it, if all remains the same, he will move into the top three this year. 

He’s not satisfied with that, though.

“I think the least I can shoot for is top three,” he said. “I should be shooting for first. I should just continue forward, shooting for first for the rest of the season. I know a couple kids who are really good. If nobody (else) just completely shines in their first year and beats me, then I should take third if everything stays the same. But I’m going to shoot for first.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Bay City John Glenn’s Jamie Miller dives during a meet this winter. (Middle) Miller, leading a line of divers on the pool deck, recently won the Tri-Cities diving competition. (Photos by Kent Miller.)

DeWitt's Thomas Blazes Swimming Path with Historic Finals Performance

By Steve Vedder
Special for

April 4, 2024

Aaron Thomas easily could have decided that swimming wasn't going to be part of his life.

Mid-MichiganThe DeWitt senior could've pieced together some combination of his other entertainment interests to fill his time. For instance, he could have spent more time with friends or immersed himself in video games. Or maybe devoted more time to a flirtation with golf or playing trumpet in the school band. Thomas also could have gained a head start on college and his ultimate goal of a degree in biomedical engineering.

Considering the lifetime of challenges he's faced in swimming, those seemed more tenable options.

Instead, Thomas chose the tougher path.

"My life is swimming," he said. "I've been in water so much, I've never looked back."

By "looking back," Thomas means ignoring a disability that would have turned many youngsters away from the pool. He was born without 65 percent of his pointer finger on his left hand and with a thumb that's only about 90-percent intact. The other three fingers stop at the top of the knuckle. As DeWitt coach Brock Delaney explains, much of a swimmer’s success comes from the power of fingers and subsequent strength in the hands – and without that combination, swimmers are at an immediate disadvantage.

But rather than letting those obstacles keep him high and dry, Thomas has excelled and finished this season with a historic first. He qualified for the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals in the 200-yard individual medley and finished 29th and also competed in the Paralympic 100 freestyle exhibition event and topped all divisions with a time of 54.07 seconds. In doing so, Thomas became the first competitor to swim that combination at a Finals meet.

Thomas additionally this winter made DeWitt's Century Club of swimmers who have amassed 100 points in a season for the second time, and he has earned National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association (NISCA) Paralympic All-American honors in the 200-yard freestyle (1:56.64), 200 IM (2:08.21), and 500 free (5:11.58). He also competes in Paralympic swimming as part of the Mid-Michigan Aquatics Club.

To some, the quest for those achievements likely would seem a long and difficult path. But to Thomas, it's business as usual. A disability? What disability, offers Thomas, whose ultimate goal is swimming in the 2028 Summer Paralympics in Los Angeles.

"I've always loved swimming," he said. "When I'm in the water, I never worry about anything. I just feel free."

Thomas posted the fastest time across all divisions in the Paralympic 100 freestyle exhibition at this season’s Finals. And Thomas has found a way to even the playing field, Delaney said.

"He's such a hard worker who has made up for a left-hand deficiency," Delaney said. "He's legit, a strong kid who loves to swim. "

But determination can take a swimmer only so far. Delaney said Thomas, classified as an S10 swimmer for Paralympic events, has developed physical strategies to increase his performance. In the backstroke, for instance, Thomas swims with his left hand underwater to help in propulsion. For speed, Thomas tries to keep his body on his "power side."

The rest, Delaney said, is simply heart.

"He moved here from Alma between his eighth grade and freshmen years," he said. "If not our hardest worker, he's in the top three. He's got something not all athletes have."

Thomas said one of the chief reasons he spends so much time around pools is the type of person he finds there. He describes people who combine encouragement and understanding with a will to compete despite any perceived physical shortcomings. What he's learned from them not only explains his swim career, but teaches valuable life lessons as well.

In fact, Thomas' career plans, beginning at Hope College in the fall, include securing a degree in biomedical engineering with an ultimate plan to help build prosthetics.

"Getting to know people in the prosthetic field really interests me," he said. "Swimming and prosthetics have been a nice tie-in with school. Prosthetics ties it all together for me."

Thomas said he can think of only a single instance where he questioned whether he should follow his love of swimming. But that thought quickly passed, and he's thrown himself into the sport ever since.

"I wouldn't trade my disability for the world," he said. "It's given me so many opportunities. The whole club and school thing and getting to the state meet never would have happened.”

Thomas will swim at Hope, and his goal is to qualify for the 200 IM at the Los Angeles Paralympic games. Thomas estimates he's within 15 seconds of qualifying in that meet's long course event.

"It's achievable," he said. "For sure it's doable."

Whether he makes it to Los Angeles or if his swim career quietly winds down, Thomas, who describes himself as competitive, said he still will have gained something for which everyone strives, athlete or not.

"Water has always been a safe spot for me," he said. "I think I've always used it as kind of a break from life. It helps clear my head.

“I've always been taught that you get out of work what you put into it. Work always pays off in the end. I've always remembered that.”

PHOTOS (Top) Aaron Thomas races for the DeWitt swimming & diving team. (Middle) Thomas posted the fastest time across all divisions in the Paralympic 100 freestyle exhibition at this season’s Finals. (Photos provided by the DeWitt swimming & diving program and Thomas family.)