Camaraderie and Ability to Outwork Others Propels Swim Team
Leo Applegate stood on the starting block, knees bent, ready to explode. At the sound of the starter’s horn, he dove forward into the pool and swam…and swam…and swam…
Five minutes and 21 seconds later, Applegate reached the end of his 20th length and pulled himself out of the water, having pushed through fatigue and burning arms and legs to swim the 500-meter freestyle more than 20 seconds faster than his closest competitor.
That, really, is all swimming is: pushing beyond one’s breaking point, working harder than seems possible, keeping one’s arms and legs moving when the entire body is screaming that they should stop. Applegate, who swims the longest event of the meet, knows that perhaps better than anyone, but it’s a mentality that all swimmers share. Swimmers train all season to shave precious seconds off their times, or even to maintain the times that they’ve reached. At the Greenhills/FGR/Whitmore Lake co-op swim team’s meet against Dundee High School, that hard work was on full display.
Dundee won the meet 104-82, but that was perhaps to be expected, as Greenhills was missing several swimmers, including one of its best. More important than the overall score, though, are the individual events. At the end of each swim season, rather than advancing to the state meet based on overall team score, each team sends individual events to compete. Last season, four events from the team qualified. This season, they’re hoping to send more.
“We are definitely working our way there,” said Head Coach Eileen Noble. “We’ve been chipping away at those times with all of our meets.”
The team is unique for a few reasons. For one, of course, it’s a cooperative effort between three different schools. Co-op teams aren’t unheard of — Greenhills’ softball and ice hockey teams, for instance, are co-ops — but cooperation between three teams, rather than two, adds a whole new level of complexity.
“I think (drawing from three different schools) is a benefit,” Noble said. “It gives us a bigger pool of people to draw from. It does bump us up a division, but I’ve always been of the opinion that you want to swim against better teams, because that makes you better. It gives you higher goals to reach for.”
The team is also one of the only co-ed teams in its league. At most races, the team’s girls swim against all-male opponents — and more than prove their mettle.
“They certainly have the gumption to swim up with the guys,” Noble said. “They love competing with the guys in practice. The camaraderie on the team is really, really great. Where it could be polarized, we’ve never had that issue.”
That camaraderie, of course, is all the more important when a team is made up of athletes from different schools, and even different towns. The unity and team spirit created by being the only co-ed team in the area, Noble said, has helped make up for the fact that the team can’t build cohesion in ways that high school teams usually can. The team can’t hang out at lunch, and they don’t even see many of their teammates each day until swim practice. But still, the swimmers remain close-knit and hard-working.
“It’s always been a very close-knit team and a good jive,” Noble said.
Against Dundee, missing some key swimmers, the team had to do some improvisation. Noble had to shuffle some lineups and move some swimmers around, balancing the team’s desire to win as many races as possible with the need to give each swimmer the chance to swim an event that would help their development. But rather than seeing it as a setback, Noble and the team treated the lineup shuffling as an opportunity.
“It did give some of our other swimmers the opportunity to swim higher up in different relays, or mix up our relays and let them show what they can do while competing,” she said. “They really stepped up to the plate, and I was proud of them for that.”
Despite the final score, there was no shortage of highlights for the Gryphons. While Applegate’s time in the 500 meter freestyle wasn’t where he wants it yet — he swam a 5:21, but is hoping to get down below five minutes by the end of the season — he still dominated the event. The A teams in both the 200-meter and the 400-meter freestyle relays set their best times of the season. Freshman Ishan Leahy, the only Greenhills diver of the meet, earned some of the highest scores of the diving portion.
But while each swimmer swims different events at different speeds, really, they’re all doing the same thing. Working hard. Pushing themselves. Keeping their arms and legs moving.
“For a group of kids who have a lot of meets coming up and a couple of meets behind them in the last week, they’ve been working really hard,” Noble said. “They worked through that tiredness and came out with a good meet.”