Performance: Trenton's Michael Wolsek

January 31, 2020

Michael Wolsek
Trenton senior - Swimming

The Trenton senior standout set meet and pool records in the 200-yard freestyle (1:43.85) and 100 butterfly (50.03) at Allen Park on Saturday in helping the Trojans to the team victory at the Downriver Classic. Wolsek also was part of a meet and pool record-setting 200 medley relay (1:39.17) and meet record-breaking 400 freestyle (3:18.13) in earning the MHSAA “Performance of the Week” as Trenton claimed the Classic championship for the first time in five years.

Wolsek grew up in the pool; his father Robert was a Trenton record holder at one time and helped create the community’s youth swim lesson program, and three older siblings also starred for the Trojans. Michael holds school records in the 50 (21.52), 100 (47.60) and 200 freestyles (1:42.72), 100 butterfly (49.89), and as part of the record 400 free relay (3:17.52). All four of his individual school records also are league records, and he was also part of a league record 200 medley relay (1:39.14) as well. Wolsek finished second in the butterfly and fourth in the 200 free and swam on two scoring relays at last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals, where Trenton finished ninth – also its current team state ranking this winter. He called his winter “just a culmination of all the great coaches I’ve had the opportunity to work with,” and obviously it’s paying off – Wolsek’s season-best fly time of 50.03 ranks first in the state by nearly a second, and his top 200 free time of 1:43.85 is eighth-fastest.

He’s part of a talented cast; among teammates, junior Spencer Boling-Hamer won the teams’ first Finals individual championship last season since 1969. Wolsek is one of three team captains and the first from his family to wear the “Helmet” – an honor bestowed on a senior annually to wear while leading the team into competition. Wolsek will continue his academic and athletic careers at Wayne State University. He carries a 3.7 GPA and is interested in majoring in kinesiology and studying exercise sciences.

Coach Jim DeRupa said:Micheal has been a huge asset to the team. He has been focused on leading a younger group of swimmers. We have 18 new swimmers on the team this season. He shows his leadership as a captain by giving speeches at practices and meets to get the team fired up. He has helped the program significantly not only by winning events but by encouraging a team culture where everyone works hard and everyone is a part of the team. He is excited to see what the end of the season is going to bring for the team. He is focused on the current team, but is also excited to continue the sport in college.”

Performance Point: “This year, I feel like the whole team has come together in a way that I've never seen it come together,” Wolsek said. “I've had older siblings on the team, before I was in high school, and I've never seen the team come together quite like it (did) at the meet on Saturday. Everybody has been working so hard to make this team great. We're fighting for that league title this February. And the thing I take away (from Saturday) is when you're doing your swims for your teammates, the camaraderie and connection that we share, it helps. It makes it easier. I don't think I'm ever going to forget that sense of camaraderie that I felt on Saturday.”

Ready to lead: I’ve always loved taking every opportunity to be a leader on the team. I’ve been granted the opportunity this year as a senior leader to be able to not only help the freshmen and underclassmen and rookies with technique after practice, but I can also give speeches and have a more hands-on approach with my team. It’s just been absolutely awesome – the people I’ve met this year, the freshman are working so hard, and it’s probably been one of my favorite experiences just getting to meet and pass on what I’ve learned through my four years at this school to the younger guys.”

Wear ‘The Helmet’ proudly: “It’s a Trenton swim tradition. I believe it started in the 90s. Every year a senior who has the helmet passes it down to a junior who will be a senior the next year. And we have a very unique team chant that’s unlike anything else in the state of Michigan – we march out and align to a cowbell, and the person at the front of the line is wearing the Trojan helmet. … I’m so blessed to be a part of this culture. At Trenton High School, we’re very proud of our community, and our symbol, The Trojan, we’re very proud to represent that. Last year at our swim banquet, senior Donny Grocki passed it down to me … and after he gave it to me, he told me he gave it to me because he saw the work I put in and he saw the leadership that I demonstrated. When I found out I was the one who had it, I was very, very excited. It’s been my dream ever since I saw my brothers’ teams as a kid; you always see the guy wearing the Trojan helmet. I was very excited when I found out I got to represent our school like that.”

Watched and learning: “It’s definitely changed the way I think about the sport. I attribute a lot of my success to the opportunities I’ve had at home. My parents have always been extremely supportive of my swimming, and having older siblings that have all gone through the sport grants me the opportunity to be able to learn from their mistakes and to improve upon what I saw them doing. So I think the biggest thing is the culture at my house – every day I’m coming home and it’s swimming for breakfast, lunch and dinner, always swimming, and that’s definitely helped me.”

Science of speed: I’ve always been fascinated by locomotion and biomechanics, and they have a physical therapy and occupational therapy program at Wayne State which I’m looking to possibly pursue after getting my bachelor’s in kinesiology. Swimming’s been the one thing I’ve been consistently passionate about my entire life, and any of that that I can take into my professional career would just make it an absolute joy.”

– Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Past honorees

Jan. 24: Kensington Holland, Utica Ford bowling - Report
Jan. 17:
Claycee West, White Pigeon basketball - Report
Jan. 10: 
Seth Lause, Livonia Stevenson hockey - Report
Dec. 5: Mareyohn Hrabowski, River Rouge football - Report
Nov. 28:
Kathryn Ackerman, Grand Haven swimming - Report
Nov. 21:
Emily Van Dyke, Southfield Christian volleyball - Report
Nov. 14:
Taylor Wegener, Ida volleyball - Report
Nov. 7:
Carter Solomon, Plymouth cross country - Report
Oct. 31: 
Jameson Goorman, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian soccer - Report
Oct. 24:
Austin Plotkin, Brimley cross country
- Report
Oct. 17:
Jack Spamer, Brighton cross country - Report
Oct. 10:
Kaylee Maat, Hudsonville volleyball - Report
Oct. 3:
Emily Paupore, Negaunee cross country - Report
Sept. 26: 
Josh Mason, South Lyon soccer - Report
Sept. 19: Ariel Chang, Utica Eisenhower golf - Report
Sept. 12: Jordyn Shipps, DeWitt swimming - Report

PHOTOS: (Top) Trenton's Michael Wolsek, holding onto the Downriver Classic trophy with his right hand, is surrounded by teammates after the Trojans won Saturday's event. (Middle) Wolsek, in the team's Trojan helmet, provides some final motivation before an earlier meet this winter. (Photos courtesy of the Trenton boys swimming & diving program.)

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.)