Performance: Holland Christian's Skyler Cook-Weeks

March 17, 2018

Skyler Cook-Weeks
Holland Christian senior – Swimming

Cook-Weeks capped an outstanding career at Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals at Saginaw Valley State University with two more individual and two relay titles to help Holland Christian to its first MHSAA team title since 1989 and earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

Cook-Weeks won the 200-yard freestyle in 1:37.27 and the 500 in 4:25.84, and also swam on the victorious 200 (1:24.89) and 400 (3:04.52) freestyle relays. His individual wins and the 400 freestyle relay all set meet records. Total, he finished his high school career with four individual and three relay Finals championships. All four times from Saturday also set school records, and Cook-Weeks also tops Holland Christian’s all-time leaderboard in the 50 (20.62) and 100 (45.03) freestyles.

After following five-time Finals individual champion brother Parker Cook-Weeks through Holland Christian, Skyler also will follow Parker to Queens University (N.C.) – which is competing this weekend for a fourth straight NCAA Division II championship. Skyler plans to study business and architectural design and spends part of his Holland Christian school day in work study with an uncle’s construction company.

Coach Todd Smeenge said: “Skyler’s success has been due to a strong work ethic and drive to get faster. Skyler sets goals that are just far enough out that he has to really work hard to make those goals. He is not the biggest kid on the team, but his heart makes up for what he might lack in stature, and his stamina takes over from there. Skyler is like the energizer bunny in the pool. It's not often that a workout taxes him beyond what his body can handle. When it does, he recovers and attacks his goals again the next day. … As far as the team goes, his work ethic pushes a lot of his peers, but it is really his words of encouragement to younger athletes, guys that are trying out the sport for the first time, that is going to be missed. He isn't flashy about it, but I often see the little things he does and says on the deck at meets that encourages or positively challenges those newer or younger swimmers.”

Performance Point: “The end part was the best part,” Cook-Weeks said of Saturday’s Finals, “because that’s when we won the meet and sealed it off with the 400 free relay, and that sealed the whole thing for us to win our first championship in 20 years. … Each practice we would always push each other to be the best; even if it was warm-up we would go fast. But once we got to the main sets, that’s where we’d push each other. Even for the kids who just started out, their freshman year, we wanted to push them to be the best that they can be. … I’m happy with how it turned out. At the beginning of the season, if somebody would say, ‘You’re going to win a state championship at the end of the season,’ I would say I don’t think we would. But in the end, we got it done.”

Picked up from Parker: “After my sophomore year, I went to his DII nationals in Indianapolis, and I went there and I watched how their team interacted with each other and treated everyone. And I took that to my junior year and to my senior year, to be more interactive – help people with what they need to be helped with and be a better teammate and a better leader.”

Building faith: “I think (becoming a leader) helped me become a better person, and it helped my faith a lot because my faith when I came in as a freshman wasn’t that good. But it progressed better and better throughout the years. I got into praying before each race, and praying for others that they could do the best they could do.”

Mr. Versatile: “I’ve always been known as a distance swimmer, but I kinda developed into more of a sprinter. So I can do the 50 and 100 but I was really known for the 200, 500, 1,000 and mile. When I first swam (the mile) in the summer of 2014, I wanted to scratch out of it because I hadn’t done it before. It took forever. Once I swam the mile for the first time, I went a pretty decent time. After that I developed into a different swimmer with a lot of endurance. I want to try to take that into sprint events because that’s where I can help out the team.”

Back on dry land: “Everyone at school has probably only known me as a swimmer, like that’s all he focuses on. But when I get home I like to watch other sports and hang around with friends. … I like to watch football – I root for the Carolina Panthers.” 

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2017-18 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army 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 protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Previous 2017-18 honorees:
March 8: Dakota Greer, Howard City Tri-County wrestling - Read
March 1: Camree' Clegg, Wayne Memorial basketball - Read
February 23: Aliah Robertson, Sault Ste. Marie swimming - Read
February 16: Austin O'Hearon, Eaton Rapids wrestling - Read
February 9: Sophia Wiard, Muskegon Oakridge basketball - Read
February 2: Brenden Tulpa, Hartland hockey - Read
January 25: Brandon Whitman, Dundee wrestling - Read
January 18: Derek Maas, Holland West Ottawa swimming - Read
January 11: Lexi Niepoth, Bellaire basketball - Read
November 30: La'Darius Jefferson, Muskegon football - Read
November 23: Ashley Turak, Farmington Hills Harrison swimming - Read
November 16: Bryce Veasley, West Bloomfield football - Read 
November 9: Jose Penaloza, Holland soccer - Read
November 2: Karenna Duffey, Macomb L'Anse Creuse North cross country - Read
October 26: Anika Dy, Traverse City Central golf - Read
October 19: Andrew Zhang, Bloomfield Hills tennis - Read
October 12: Nolan Fugate, Grand Rapids Catholic Central football - Read
October 5: Marissa Ackerman, Munising tennis - Read
September 28: Minh Le, Portage Central soccer - Read
September 21: Olivia Theis, Lansing Catholic cross country - Read
September 14: Maddy Chinn, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Skyler Cook-Weeks launches during the 200-yard freestyle at the LP Division 3 Finals. (Middle) Cook-Weeks follows the line on the way to the start for the 500. (Click for more from

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.)