Seniors Lead Again as Marquette Boys Claim 4th-Straight UP Finals Title

By John Vrancic
Special for

February 19, 2023

MARQUETTE — The Marquette boys captured their fourth consecutive Upper Peninsula swimming & diving title in convincing fashion here Saturday with 376 points.

They were followed by Houghton with 216, and Kingsford edged Sault Ste. Marie 133-132 for third place.

A diver begins his lift-off Friday.Marquette senior Andrew King collected three firsts, taking the 100-yard backstroke in a personal-best 57.73 seconds and swimming a personal-best one minute, 57.9 seconds while taking runner-up honors in the 200 freestyle. He also helped the winning 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays.

“This was really a great day,” said King, who swam all four years of high school. “This is the first time I got under a minute in the 100 backstroke and under two minutes in 200 freestyle. I’ve been shooting for those all season. It feels great to swim those times and finish strong and who knows, there’s always a chance I might swim in college. I’m very happy for both of our teams.”

Classmate Liam McFarren added a first in the 200 individual medley (2:08.18) and helped the 200 medley and freestyle relays.

Senior Maverick Baldwin won the 50 freestyle (22.67) and took second in the 100 butterfly (58.22), and helped the medley and 400 freestyle relays. Sophomore teammate Evan Balko earned top honors in diving Friday with 215.35 points.

“I’ve been working with our seniors since they’ve been 9-10 years old,” said Marquette coach Nate McFarren. “It’s a pleasure to see them become fine young men right before my eyes. You see them do all the training for all the big events, and all of a sudden it’s over. It’s kind of bittersweet. It’s kind of a letdown after the season ends.”

Houghton senior Johannes Myhre, an exchange student from Norway, earned top honors in the 100 butterfly (56.21) and 100 freestyle (50.07) and helped the Gremlins place second in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays.

An Ishpeming/Negaunee athlete races in the butterfly.“I’ve always lived on the water and since I’ve been a little kid I loved being on the water,” he said. “I started competitive swimming four years ago. I think I had a pretty good backstroke today, and having Liam McFarren on my side really helps. He’s definitely a good swimmer. We’ve gone back and forth all year. I think it was decided after 75 yards. I used all my reserves.”

Kingsford sophomore Joey Lundmark claimed the 200 freestyle (1:56.85) and 500 (5:27.07), and senior teammate Zane Cahee added a first in the 100 breaststroke (1:08.47). They also helped the Flivvers place third in the 200 medley relay, and Cahee was fourth in the 200 IM (2:26.91).

Manistique senior Grant Mason set a school record while placing third in the 100 backstroke (1:02.43).

“I definitely ate a little better today and yesterday and managed my diet, which gave me a little more energy,” he said. “I also stayed in a hotel in Marquette and was able to sleep in a little. I beat my previous best time by about two seconds, and our medley relay placed second. We swam real strong and beat our best time by about seven seconds.”

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(PHOTOS by Randy Ritari – Click to see more.)

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.)