Marquette 'Electrifies' with 3rd Title in 5 Years

By Ryan Stieg
Special for Second Half

March 13, 2021

MARQUETTE – For the second year in a row, the Marquette boys swimming & diving team climbed atop the Upper Peninsula podium, and on Saturday, they did it in dominant fashion. 

The Redmen finished with 421 points, 194 more than second-place Houghton, while Sault Ste. Marie (170) edged Kingsford (107) for third.

This was also Marquette’s third team championship in five years. 

Marquette won eight of the 12 events, including all three relays (200-yard medley, 200 freestyle, 400 free). 

“I don’t think it was really going to be a surprise,” Marquette head coach Nathan McFarren said. “I don’t want to sound cocky, but coming in, we were pretty stacked. We’ve broken records, but I don’t know if we’ve ever had this much depth. A couple of events we went 1-2-3. We won every single relay outright. The whole day was electrifying.”

Liam McFarren and Colin Vanderschaaf both won two events for Marquette with McFarren winning the 200 free and 100 butterfly and Vanderschaaf taking the 500 free and 100 breaststroke. Maverick Baldwin added a win in the 100 free. 

Sault Ste. Marie swimmingAccording to Coach McFarren, both Liam McFarren and Vanderschaaf finished the season undefeated, including relays, and the coach said the whole team was locked in from the start. 

“The focus this year having a team of mostly sophomores is way up,” he said. “Shortened season and everything came together in the end. It was pretty sweet.”

Morgan Burd earned two titles for Sault Ste. Marie, in the 50 free and 100 backstroke, and Cameron Bauers won the 1-meter diving competition Friday night. Houghton’s Davin Evans was the other individual champion as he won the 200 individual medley. 

All in all, McFarren was extremely pleased with his team’s performance and knew from the opening event it was going to be a fun afternoon. 

“Oh my God, it was amazing,” he said. “I could tell from the moment I showed up that was going to be an electrifying day.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) Marquette's Liam McFarren charges through his win in the 200-yard freestyle Saturday. (Middle) Sault Ste. Marie's Morgan Burd makes his move toward the 100 backstroke championship. (Photos by Daryl Jarvinen.)

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.)