Performance: Novi's Camden Murphy

March 21, 2017

Camden Murphy
Novi Swimming & Diving – Senior

Murphy is an accomplished champion as one of the nation’s top swimmers in his age group. This winter, he decided for the first time to compete as part of Novi High School's team, and finished a dominating run March 11 with Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals victories in the 200-yard individual medley and 100 butterfly – with an all-Finals record in the latter – to earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week” for March 6-12.

Murphy’s winning 200 IM time of 1:48.99 was more than a second faster than the field. But his butterfly time was the stunner – 46.63 seconds, breaking the former all-Finals record swam in 2011 by Battle Creek Lakeview star Clay Youngquist (who went on to swim at University of Texas) by 48 hundredths of a second. Murphy also swam on second-place 200 medley and fourth-place 400 freestyle relays as Novi as a team finished fourth overall. Murphy earned automatic All-America honors from the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association this season for his IM and butterfly times and also for the 44.78 he swam in the 100 freestyle, while the 400 freestyle relay is under All-America consideration. Murphy will graduate with Novi records in all three of those individual races and as part of the two relays.

This past weekend, Murphy won the butterfly at the National Club Swimming Association Junior National Championships (in 46.58), and he has an eye on eventually making the U.S. national team. He’s signed to continue this fall at the University of Georgia, where he’s considering studying business. He'll leave behind a major impression made in his one high school season – Murphy was named “Division 1 Swimmer of the Year” by the Michigan Interscholastic Swam Coaches Association, but showing his selflessness, said his best memories were watching his teammates hoist a team trophy and coach Brent Pohlonski receive MISCA’s Division 1 coaching award at the meet.   

Coach Brent Pohlonski said: "It was an honor to coach Camden this season. For a swimmer of his caliber to be so humble and team-oriented was very refreshing. Each week he was willing to swim whatever events our team needed him to win. He was very open to suggestions from our entire coaching staff, and the guys on our team loved swimming with him. He is very deserving of all the accolades he is receiving. He is a perfect example of great things happening to great people."

Performance Point: “Honestly, the high school state meet … had the strongest atmosphere,” Murphy said. “It was really loud, really exciting. Everyone takes it really seriously, and that makes it fun. I kinda expected things to turn out the way they did, but a lot of it was a surprise. The state meet was a really big deal; there were a lot of people in the stands, and I wasn’t expecting there to be.”

For the Wildcats: “I thought it would be a really fun experience to be on the high school team, represent Novi. And I knew it would be a good experience to do before going into college swimming, because it’s almost the same thing – balancing school and swimming, being on a team representing your high school.”

Thanks Coach: “He’s very motivational, every single day in and day out. Even during the morning practices at 4:30 in the morning, he’s always in a good mood. He’s always wanting us to get better. Even when we’re super tired for a Monday morning practice, he’s always enthusiastic.”

Big deal beating Youngquist: “I had heard his name for a really long time, and I know he was really fast. (But) not until a few people told me who had raced against him, and told me it was a really big deal ... then it hit me.”

Bulldogs and business: “Right now I’m thinking business. I’ve taken a lot of business classes, and I thought a lot of them are really interesting. I might go into marketing or management, but I’m not sure yet.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2016-17 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 protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Previous 2016-17 honorees:
March 9: Ben Freeman, Walled Lake Central wrestling Read
March 2: Joey Mangner, Chelsea swimming & diving Read
Feb. 23: Isabelle Nguyen, Grosse Pointe North gymnastics – Read
Feb. 16: Dakota Hurbis, Saline swimming & diving – Read
Feb. 2: Foster Loyer, Clarkston basketball Read
Jan. 26: Nick Jenkins, Detroit Catholic Central wrestling – Read
Jan. 19: Eileene Naniseni, Mancelona basketball Read
Jan. 12: Rory Anderson, Calumet hockey – Read
Dec. 15: Demetri Martin, Big Rapids basketball Read
Dec. 1: Rodney Hall, Detroit Cass Tech football Read
Nov. 24: Ally Cummings, Novi volleyball Read
Nov. 17: Chloe Idoni, Fenton volleyball Read
Nov. 10: Adelyn Ackley, Hart cross country Read
Nov. 3: Casey Kirkbride, Mattawan soccer – Read
Oct. 27: Colton Yesney, Negaunee cross country Read
Oct. 20: Varun Shanker, Midland Dow tennis Read
Oct. 13: Anne Forsyth, Ann Arbor Pioneer cross country – Read
Oct. 6: Shuaib Aljabaly, Coldwater cross country – Read
Sept. 29: Taylor Seaman, Brighton swimming & diving – Read
Sept. 22: Maggie Farrell, Battle Creek Lakeview cross country – Read
Sept. 15: Franki Strefling, Buchanan volleyball – Read
Sept. 8: Noah Jacobs, Corunna cross country – Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Novi's Camden Murphy swims the butterfly during a meet this season. (Middle) Murphy, in his only high school season, was named MISCA's "Division 1 Swimmer of the Year." (Photos by John Heider (top) and Brad Emons/Novi News)

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.)