It feels good always knowing someone has your back.
That’s been my feeling ever since the swim team at Oakland University allowed me to redshirt this year to chase my Olympic dream. It’s a decision I wouldn’t have been able to make without the support of the school, coach Pete Hovland, and my teammates.
I’ve known what I’ve wanted to do in life ever since I turned on the television and watched Michael Phelps win eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
When I saw that guy swimming—everything changed.
That was the moment I knew exactly what dream I wanted to chase.
It was the moment I knew would be impossible to pass up if I ever got the chance.
The roots from that journey are a bit more unconventional than from a typical swimmer.
I didn’t get into the sport at the earliest age, and I wasn’t doing one-on-one lessons with a private instructor. I got my competitive start challenging my dad to one-lap races in a pool at a place where my mom worked. It was normal for a nice evening swim to turn into a full-on sprint to the end of the pool.
My technique obviously wasn’t the best, but I did whatever I could to keep up. I won’t tell you who won, either, but the races did get tight enough for my dad to put me in competitive swimming.
Who would have thought those one-lap races would springboard my career into college athletics?
But that’s exactly what happened.
I continued to mature and improve my techniques. Multiple colleges were reaching out by the time I was in high school. My entire family supported me every step of the way, but my dad was always the one that pushed to help me accomplish my dream.
He saw the look in my eyes when I watched Phelps blow through the competition on the world’s biggest stage. That opportunity to go out into the world and chase that dream was something he wanted for me as much as I wanted it for myself.
And so began my journey at Oakland University.
In many of the same ways my dad supported my dreams, I got the feeling Oakland was there for the same reasons. There was always a genuine nature with the school and coaching staff, especially with coach Hovland.
I just felt like he really cared that I wanted to be there.
That couldn’t have been more evident than him signing off on my request for a redshirt year.
My decision honestly stemmed from Arizona State coach Bob Bowman, Michael Phelps’ former coach, announcing he was redshirting his entire team this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The wheels in my head started turning as soon as that decision became public news.
There was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the season. Who knew what it was going to be like amid a global pandemic?
I knew I wanted a chance to finish out my swimming career at Oakland with a full season. So I took this year to focus on my Olympic dream, and God-willing, I’ll be ready to return to the school team in 2021 to hopefully end things on a positive note.
For the first time in my life, I took the initiative and tried to think ten steps ahead in my career. The opportunity I’ve spent my entire life waiting for was right there in front of me. It was time to spread my wings and fly.
Oakland is a great place to find your identity. Although I’ve always known what I wanted to do, the university has given me the chance to go off on my own and explore that option.
There aren’t too many places out there willing to do that.
The one thing that makes this decision so hard is not being able to graduate with my class.
Among the best memories I have at Oakland are the friendships, especially with my teammates. Developing that brotherly bond is something that I’ve never really had in my life. The feeling of having that special group of people supporting me on this journey is something I can’t even begin to put into words.
I’ll spend the rest of the school year preparing for two main swim meets in Spain—one in December and the other in March. Many of the best swimmers and clubs are expected to be there. I’ll do everything in my power to post my best time and hopefully earn a spot on the team.
Making the team would mean all of the hard work for the past 12 years has been worth it.
This dream that I’ve carried since I was a little kid will be staring me back in the face. The journey I’ve gone through—all of the ups and downs and not knowing whether that dream was possible—is all for this moment.
And I’m giving all of the glory to God.
I couldn’t have made it this far without his blessings. From the one-lap races with my dad to joining Oakland University and eventually trying to make an Olympic team—my swimming story never had a conventional beginning.
I can only pray the ending is as equally and positively unconventional.