Performance: Midland Dow's Nehemiah Mork

February 4, 2016

Nehemiah Mork
Midland Dow senior – Swimming & Diving

He's set his share of records, but for a year Mork had his eye on another he just missed breaking as a junior. It's his now. Mork set or was part of four meet records at the Tri-Cities Swimming & Diving Championships at Saginaw Valley State University on Saturday, earning the Michigan National Guard’s Performance of the Week.

The Michigan State University recruit broke his own meet record in the 50-yard freestyle (21.26) and another with his opening leg of the winning 400 relay (45.90). But the record he aimed for was in the 100 butterfly, where he knocked three-time MHSAA individual champion Wade King of Saginaw MacArthur off the board with a time of 51.13; King’s record had stood since 1982. Mork also teamed with Ben Brandstadt, Noah Behm and Jacob Krzciok to break the meet record in the 200 freestyle relay in 1:29.10.

Mork won Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals championships in the 50 and 100 freestyles last season and owns or is part of seven school records – for all three relays, plus the 50 (20.80), 100 (45.67) and 200 (1:41.6) freestyles and butterfly (50.46). A top-10 student at his school academically, Mork has an unweighted grade-point average of 3.95 and will major in mechanical engineering at MSU. He was quick to thank his coaches for investing so much time in his development; his coach, Gary Strickler, in turn explained how dedication had played a great role in creating his latest of many champions.

Coach Gary Strickler said: “The first key is he is a great student; he’s an all-A student, so that’s a significant accomplishment to also be a gifted athlete at the same time. He’s put in countless days of practice since he’s been 10, 11, 12 years old. That in itself is just an unbelievable commitment to a lifetime of swimming. As far as our team is concerned, he shows leadership. It’s different than football or basketball; (for swimming) it’s example. He’s always setting a great example, working at peak level so everyone else sees he’s working at a peak level. And that multiplies his ability to contribute to the team. … If someone sees someone doing great things, they tend to want to copy it.”

Performance Point: “Yes, the two individual events were pretty exciting and breaking Wade King’s record was pretty awesome. But my 200 free relay also beat the meet record. Everybody swam really fast. We were losing for a while, and then we came back to win it, so it was just a really exciting event for everybody.”

Raving about relays: Like many elite swimmers and runners at the high school level, Mork enjoys the opportunities to compete with teammates. “Individual (events) it’s a lot of pressure on me. I have to do so well so I can get an award. For a relay there’s a little less pressure. You have people who can help you if you do not go quite as fast as you want. It also gives you extra incentive to do super well, so your teammates get recognized and get rewards. Relays are nice because everybody gets pumped up; we are united for a goal and we just help each other get excited.”

Unseating the King: “Last year, (Wade King) held the record for the 100 fly for Tri-Cities and (Saginaw) Valley Championships. As a junior I broke his 100 fly record in the Valley Championships and just missed it in Tri-Cities. This year, I said I’ve got to get it this time. A bunch of people were coming up to me during the week saying it’s such an old record, he was such a fast swimmer. ‘Can you break it? Will you break it?’ There was that pressure, but it was very exciting also. It was a super old record, so it was time for it to come down.”

Latest of Dow’s Greats: “You might think it would be stressful to fill those shoes of Jackson Goethe and Ben Martin. They were just so fast and so good, so it’s exciting to me because I get to expand that role. So you get to take on sprint events, and you have to do as well as they did. You feel pressure, but when you accomplish those goals as being faster than they were, it feels extra good. You’re helping out your team, leading the team just as well as the people who came before you. I guess there’s a little more pressure involved, but once you accomplish those goals, it feels so much better.”

Mechanical-Minded: “I’m thinking right now I might want to go into the automotive industry. … I love math and science – those are my two best subjects. I also just love machines, everything they do, and I loving talking about the ideas.”

– 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
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) Midland Dow's Nehemiah Mork competes in a race this season and holds seven school records. (Middle) Mork surges ahead during the butterfly. (Photos courtesy of Susan Drumright.)

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.)