Performance: Grosse Pointe South's Jacob Montague

March 17, 2016

Jacob Montague
Grosse Pointe South senior – Swimming

Montague already was going to graduate as one of the fastest swimmers in MHSAA history. But Saturday, he finished his final high school meet by setting Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals records in two events for the second straight season, earning the Michigan National Guard Performance of the Week.

Montague’s championship race time in the 200-yard individual medley of 1:47.40 at Saginaw Valley State University broke the record he set at last season’s Division 2 meet by nine tenths of a second. His 53.93 in the 100 breaststroke broke his previous meet record by 73 hundredths of a second. He also swam on a 200 medley relay that came in runner-up and a 400 freestyle relay that came in fourth.

Montague holds all eight individual swimming records at Grosse Pointe South and has been part of record medley and 400 freestyle relays. He is the son of former University of Michigan swimmer Andy Montague and started in the sport at an early age, but gave it up during middle school to play baseball and tennis. He returned to the pool as a freshman and played all three sports that year at South before injuring a knee and focusing on swimming the rest of his career. Montague will follow his dad to U-M and is considering majoring in business.

Coach Eric Gunderson said: “In addition to setting new D2 records in both of his individual events, Jacob made a huge contribution to our relays. His breaststroke on the medley relay was incredibly fast … and his anchor leg of the 400 free relay was really fun to watch as he caught up to people at the end of it. Jacob is quite talented, but he also has an amazing work ethic. It has been a privilege for everyone to watch and to be a part of his success and dramatic improvement over the course of four years. It will be exciting to see what he can achieve going forward.”

Performance Point: “I’d say the most fun parts were the relays this year. We finished second in the medley relay and fourth in the 400 free relay, and our 400 free relay brook our school record set in 2010. That’s what was most exciting for us; we were a little off it from prelims, and we said that’s our goal. It wasn’t about place; it was about breaking that record. I was happy with my individual swims as well. I was hoping to go a little faster, but for where I’m at with my season with my taper and everything, I was happy with my times.” 

Different this time: “My junior year, nobody really knew me. Everybody was expecting other people to win. Other people were seeded higher than me going into the meet, and I had nothing to lose. I would just go for it. This year there was a little more pressure having won last year. But I tried my best not to think about that really, just to focus on swimming. And it still turned out well.”

Destination reached: “It definitely was a long journey, a lot of hard work and a lot of practices the past three years. My mind was on one goal – to be the best I can be. Definitely at times I’d get tired of it, worn out going in every day for three hours and swimming back and forth. But you get to the end of the season, you’re feeling better, swimming faster, and it pays off at the end. I didn’t really have any expectations my freshman year, especially. I was just excited to be part of a team. And our team has been good since my freshman year as a whole, and I was excited to be a part of that.” 

Pools of knowledge: “My dad, he’s definitely made a big impact. He doesn’t try to intrude on my training; I control what I do and make my own decisions what I do. But he definitely gives me pointers all the time. And also (Grosse Pointe South assistant and club coach) John Fodell. … He’s fixed my stroke, made me faster every day.”

Born to swim: “Especially my freshman year when I was getting back into it, it got monotonous. Every day, doing pretty much the same thing, back and forth, over and over for three hours. But as I improved and got better, I realized I can’t improve unless I enjoy the process of getting to that point. You have to enjoy the pain you feel during and after, being sore and what not. It’s almost soothing being in the pool. There’s nothing else to think about besides swimming."

– Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2015-16 school year, Second Half and the Michigan National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom, or protecting lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster.

Previous 2015-16 honorees
March 9: Kyle Tuttle, St. Charles boys bowling - Read
March 2: Brittney Schnicke, Caledonia girls bowling - Read
Feb. 24: Kamari Newman, Detroit East English boys basketball - Read
Feb. 17: Jason Whitens, Powers North Central boys basketball - Read 
Feb. 10: Rachel Hogan, Grand Ledge gymnastics - Read
Feb. 3: Nehemiah Mork, Midland Dow swimming & diving - Read
Jan. 27: Mardrekia Cook, Muskegon girls basketball - Read
Jan. 20: Sage Castillo, Hartland wrestling - Read
Jan. 13: Rob Zofchak, Dexter swimming & diving - Read
Jan. 6: Tyler Deming, Caro wrestling – Read
Dec. 15: Jordan Weber, East Jordan boys basketball – Read
Dec. 8: Kaitlyn Geers, Kent City girls basketball – Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Jacob Montague swims the individual medley during Saturday's Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final. (Middle) Montague swims the breaststroke; he won both races. (Click to see more at

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.)