Performance: Saline's Dakota Hurbis

February 16, 2017

Dakota Hurbis
Saline senior – Swimming & Diving

Hurbis is finishing a high school career that will rank among the most prolific in Michigan high school diving history, and over the last year he’s been on a particular tear. After defeating reigning champion Jake Herremans of Rockford at last season’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final, Hurbis has continued to be the favorite to beat, and earned the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week” by posting a score of 531.70 last Friday to break a 17-year-old record and win the event at the Michigan Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association meet at Eastern Michigan University.

Hurbis finished second in LP Division 1 and third as a sophomore before last year’s championship win, and his meet record at EMU bested the previous by more than 11 points. It’s in part a product of hard work; Hurbis has been training at EMU since he was 9 and during high school season regularly has put in double practices, even when he also was playing baseball as a freshman. This winter's performance has been impressive for another reason: Last spring, after taking first and second places at USA Diving Junior Regionals, Hurbis was faced with the challenge of coming back from June shoulder surgery – which he accomplished, about a month early, in October.  

A big-time University of Michigan, New England Patriots and Detroit Tigers fan, he’ll be rooting for other Tigers the next few years diving at Louisiana State University. Hurbis carries a 3.4 grade-point average and is interested in studying for a future in sports business. First, he'll help the Hornets as they try to break Birmingham Brother Rice's three-season hold on the Division 1 title; Saline was runner-up a year ago. Hurbis is a team captain, a rarity for a diver as he competes in only one event for his team, but also a testament to his leadership. 

Coach Todd Brunty said: “Dakota is simply one of the best we have ever had. He is hard-working and dedicated to his sport. He has worked tirelessly all year round at Legacy Diving Club in Ypsilanti for as long as I can remember to become one of the best divers in Michigan high school history. He was elected by his teammates as captain of our team for many reasons. I think the main reason is that he has always been a team-first guy. Many swimmers or divers that are as good as he is may not compete in high school and just dive club diving (where they can spend more time on 3-meter and 10-meter events not competed in high school but competed in college). Dakota stayed loyal to his team and to the guys he grew up with here in Saline. He has even swam at our championship meets and dual meets to fill crucial relay positions to help the team. He is also very helpful to new swimmers and divers. Dakota is always supportive and helpful to them, teaching them new things and spreading the love of the sport to them. It is like having a second dive coach."

Performance Point: “The MISCA meet is a really big meet for me because it’s all divisions; we have the state meet but it’s only our division, so this is the best competition I’ll face with divers from all over the state," Hurbis said. "I was seeded first going in but I knew a couple of people were really close to me, and I knew I’d have to have a really good meet. I just went into that meet knowing I’d have to focus up a little more and do a little extra, and once the meet started all my training and everything took over. I got into meet mentality, and I had myself a pretty good meet.”

It’s always been diving: “Ever since I was a kid, I liked being around the water. My older brother (Steven, 2009 grad) swam, and I saw him on the high school team and that he got a lot of close friends (from swimming). I did the country club stuff when I was younger, and I just enjoyed being around the water. Once I started diving, it came pretty easy to me, and I had coaches tell me I could be good at it. I played baseball, I played football, I swam a little bit, but diving is what I’ve always been passionate about.”

Speak up: “I’ve tried to be the best team player I can be during my four years here. My sophomore year I began giving pregame speeches in the locker room, and every opportunity I’ve gotten I’ve tried to step up and lead the team – be outspoken, be a good example for the people following me. … When we go into the locker room before meets, sometimes people say a couple things. (I try to be) a little funny and (with) a little bit of motivation. The key is you’ve got to mix them both together.”

Comeback trail: “My shoulder had been bothering me since winter, and I had a pretty big torn labrum. I wanted to wait until after senior Zones, but my coach told me to get (surgery) done as soon as possible so I could come back for my senior year. … I ended up getting in the water in mid-October again, and in the beginning I was just trying to get all my dives back on all boards – 1-meter, 3-meter and platform. A lot of people were surprised I came back early, and when I came back I got my dives back right away. I’ve got a couple of extra dives on 1-meter I haven’t competed yet, and on 3-meter I’ve got a couple of new dives, which is nice. I’m constantly adding stuff; some people throw bigger DD (degree of difficulty) dives, but I try to do what scores best.”

Business of sports: “I’m actually really good with numbers, math and numbers, so I might do something with that. My whole life I’ve followed sports; I can tell you anything about professional sports, college, and my brother and dad are the same way. It’s sometime I’d like to go into.”

- 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:
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) Saline's Dakota Hurbis tucks during a dive at his home pool this season. (Middle) Hurbis will attempt to add a second-straight MHSAA Finals championship next month. (Top photo courtesy of the Hurbis family, bottom photo courtesy of the Saline Post.)

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.)