Performance: Spring Lake's Cam Peel

March 15, 2019

Cam Peel
Spring Lake senior – Swimming & Diving

The record-setting sprint star capped his high school career Saturday with two individual titles and as part of two relay championships at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals, earning the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.” In addition to his championships, Peel became the first swimmer in Michigan high school history to break 20 seconds in the 50-yard freestyle, swimming an all-Finals record 19.86 seconds in prelims and 19.91 in the championship race.

Peel had won the 100 freestyle as a junior and placed four more times in individual events before jumping into the Oakland University pool last weekend. In addition to winning the 50, Peel took the 100 in a meet record 43.94 seconds, anchored the 200 freestyle relay in a meet record 1:22.88 and also anchored the winning 400 relay in a meet record 3:03.66. Spring Lake as a team finished fourth, to go with finishes of 13th, fifth and third during his career. He will graduate with the school records in the 50 and 100, and also in the 200 freestyle (1:39.65), individual medley (1:54.14) and 100 butterfly (50.96). 

Sprinting runs in the Peel family, at least these last two generations – his father Rob, also Spring Lake’s coach the last three seasons, won an NCAA Division III championship in the 50. Sister Meg Peel has reached the Division III Finals as well in the backstroke. Cam actually quit swimming during middle school, taking up football and lacrosse as his main pursuits instead. But he returned to the pool for high school, and will continue at University of Michigan. He carries a 3.85 GPA and plans to study business with an emphasis on property management or marketing. 

Coach (and father) Rob Peel said: “I’m nothing short of amazed by Cam’s dedication these last few years. He’s earned everything that he’s accomplished, has worked so hard and sacrificed so much to go so fast. It was an experience for me both as a coach and especially his dad to watch him perform last weekend. It was one of those things, it made me try to hold it together when he’d swim so fast. I was thrilled when he got third at state a couple of years ago – it was a 46.99, I couldn’t have been more proud of that. And for him to go as fast as he has the last couple of years has just blown me away. It’s been inspiring I think to other kids on our team to see you can just put your head down and commit to excelling in a sport and get those kind of results, because I think there are other kids on our team that look at Cam and now say, I can have that – maybe not to that level, but I can be successful in this sport because it’s based upon your work and commitment and sacrifice, and they watched him every day do that.”

Performance Point: “I didn't know that no one had broken 20, so it was a little bit of a surprise for me,” said Cam Peel of his 50 record time. “It's a super high honor, and I'm really proud of it. After prelims, I was told they announced it at the other division state meets; it was pretty cool. … My biggest takeaway (from Finals) was probably that I had a lot of fun with my team. Fourth place, we were super close, one point away (from third), but I couldn't ask for a better way to go out with my brothers.”

Magic numbers: “I had been wanting to see 19 for a long time, too early than anyone thought I should. It was super relieving, and I was super buzzed I finally did it. … My freshman year at states – I only swam one event and I swam three relays – but I led off our 2(00) free relay and I went 22.40, and after that season I didn't set a number time, but I wrote a little note to myself and kept it in my room. I still have it to this day. It says I was gonna win states the following year in the 50, which didn't happen, But for that to finally happen (this year) was great.”

Spring Lake pride: “Our team swam great. We have Kevin Losee and Joey Wachter, two standout juniors that are coming back next year. They helped me train all year. That's what nobody seems to realize, is that they're pushing me every single day. And guys like Evan (Schock) and Sam (Sella) and Eric (Geschiere), the seniors, to make it to state there, it was a total team effort.”

Dad knew: “One thing he always said was find something you're passionate about. And before high school, I didn't really know what I wanted to do. Then I found swimming, which I'd swam before, but I quit because it was hard and time-consuming. My dad had always said as long as I keep getting faster, I'm going to keep swimming. I guess I've been living by that, and I want to continue doing that as long as I can.”

Coach’s Son: “He's been a great coach. I always get a bunch of flak from the other swimmers about being the coach's son, but it kinda comes along with it. My name changed from Cam to "Coach's Son" pretty much the whole year. And my dad would joke around; we’d ask after swim meets, ‘Do we have to warm down coach?’ I'd be in the mix, and my dad would say, ‘Yeah, you have to warm down, but Cam you don't have to do anything.’ It was just a joke. … He tells me when I ask (for advice). He doesn’t feed me with information, but it’s cool too to look back at stuff he’s done. We have old videos of (his races), and he has an awesome mind in the sport. So I’m learning as much as I can now, and I think it’s going to benefit me in the future. His best events were the 50, 100 and 200, but mostly the 50 – his short course time was 19:83. He was three hundredths of a second faster (than me) in the 50, but I think I have him in the 100 and 200.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2018-19 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard recognizes 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. 

Past 2018-19 honorees

March 7: Jordan Hamdan, Hudson wrestling - Read
February 28:
Kevon Davenport, Detroit Catholic Central wrestling - Read
February 21:
Reagan Olli, Gaylord skiing - Read 
February 14:
Jake Stevenson, Traverse City Bay Reps hockey - Read
February 7: Molly Davis, Midland Dow basketball - Read
January 31:
Chris DeRocher, Alpena basketball - Read
January 24:
Imari Blond, Flint Kearsley bowling - Read
January 17: William Dunn, Quincy basketball - Read
November 29:
Dequan Finn, Detroit Martin Luther King football - Read
November 22: Paige Briggs, Lake Orion volleyball - Read
November 15:
Hunter Nowak, Morrice football - Read
November 8:
Jon Dougherty, Detroit Country Day soccer - Read
November 1:
Jordan Stump, Camden-Frontier volleyball - Read
October 25:
Danielle Staskowski, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep golf - Read
October 18:
Adam Bruce, Gladstone cross country - Read
October 11: Ericka VanderLende, Rockford cross country - Read
October 4:
Kobe Clark, Schoolcraft football - Read
September 27: Jonathan Kliewer, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern soccer - Read
September 20: Kiera Lasky, Bronson volleyball - Read
September 13: Judy Rector, Hanover-Horton cross country - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Spring Lake's Cam Peel launches during a relay at Saturday's Division 3 Finals. (Middle) Peel stands atop the awards podium at Oakland University. (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.)