A day in the life of a swim champion

Juneau-Douglas High School senior Nathan Messing was tired on Saturday morning.


Not the typical early morning teen tired he feels most days, but the exhaustion caused from the previous day’s preliminary swims at the 2011 Alaska state high school swimming championships.

“I was kind of up late,” Messing said. “It was mostly just messing around on electronics, but there was quite a bit of stress involved too, wondering about what would happen the next day.”

That next day included a spot in two championship races, the 100-yard butterfly and the 100 backstroke.

“I was really tired,” Messing said about race day. “I am usually pretty tired when I wake up anyway, this was really, really tired. We went to the pool and I was still half asleep.”

Even the muffin and Fruit Loops cereal from the hotel buffet didn’t give him a sugar high. The team lasagna dinner from the night before was anchoring his body in rest mode.

The 9 a.m. preliminary diving competition only lulled him farther into slumber.

“Once we started warm ups though, I woke right up,” Messing said. “The water was pretty cold.”

In his head, Messing reminds himself to stay calm and relaxed. This is nothing he hadn’t done before. His energy needed to be saved for the race.

“I am going to need it all,” Messing tells himself.

Then the first events began to roll by. The various buzzers of the starts, the splashes and the cheers of the swims, and the exhilarations and disappointments as fingers reach towards the pool finish.

Now Messing’s race is called and he walks past multiple colors of various schools. He walks past timers and judges, past teammates and competitors. He walks in front of fans and foes.

A brief pause before the starting platform and then two steps on top, Messing adjusts his goggles. He glances to his right and down the line the swimmers stand: Homer’s Richard Ginter, Dimond’s Cory Chan, South’s Alexander Emili, West Valley’s Brandon Rankin and Luis Marquez, and familiar faces Kenny Fox of Thunder Mountain and Merek Corporon of Ketchikan.

“I didn’t really know many of the people I was racing against,” Messing said. “They were all kind of new faces to me. I wasn’t used to racing them.”

Messing wasn’t used to the high level of the state 100 fly. It used to be his worst event.

“I was just like, eh, I’ll swim it as fast as I can,” Messing said. “I’ll just focus on my own race.”

Last year Messing swam the 100 fly in 59 seconds, a time that those standing to his left would snicker at.

Of course he had whittled that time down this season. The early morning elite Glacier Swim Club practices, the JDHS morning workouts, the muscle memory of years of pool water coursing over his body. Still, Messing thought he would just try not to finish near his sixth place seeding of 55.09 seconds.

“In regional’s my goggles completely filled with water,” Messing reminisced. “So I wasn’t really working on my technique then. I was just struggling to wallow through the water. This time I bought some new goggles and they worked really well.”

They worked better than really well.

Messing remembers bending down at the start and slicing through pool water.

“I thought I might be third,” Messing said. “I knew I was up there somewhere. I knew I wasn’t sixth. I didn’t think I was first.”

Hitting the finish wall, Messing leaned back and look up at the electronic timing board. The red bulbs flashed “Lane 7 first place.” The bulbs stopped flashing on “52.88” seconds.

“I think I yelled out ‘Yes,’ really loud,” Messing said. “That was really cool. I was not expecting to win that one at all. I don’t think I remember anything that was better than that day. I regained almost all my energy just because of the fact that I won.”

That day also included his next event, the 100-yard backstroke. Roughly 20 minutes after climbing out of the pool, his red-dyed hair dripping, Messing was crouched into a tuck start.

“I was expecting to win that one,” Messing said. “Especially since I had just swam so fast in an event I am not very good at. I figured if this was an event I was good at then I would probably win it.”

Now Messing would be in a rematch with Sitka’s Louis Belley.

“I knew he would be right behind me the entire race,” Messing said. “He pretty much was.”

The two Southeast swimmers put a few strokes of distance on South’s Zachary Rockwell, Dimond’s Chan, East’s Micah Stocker, Palmer’s Spencer Bloom, Chugiak’s Andrew Espe and Lathrop’s Paul Owens.

“The only reason I think I actually beat Louis is because his walls are so bad,” Messing stated. “When he pushes off the wall he ends up two yards behind me. Then he almost catches up to me every single 25.”

Messing touched the finish wall with a first place time of 53.18, more than two seconds faster than his seeding. His legs were so tired he could barely climb onto the pool deck.

“My strategy for backstroke is just kick as hard as I can for the entire race,” Messing said. “Oh gosh, it was so bad, my legs are so sore.”

Messing hasn’t been back in the pool since state. He will take a week off and then get back into the GSC mode

“This is some well deserved rest time,” Messing said. “I have energy, I just feel like I want to enjoy this for a few days.”

Soon 4 a.m. training will begin, and senior sectionals, and a pool on a college campus. Steven’s Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. and Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Fla. have been recruiting him.

“I have just started that process,” Messing said. “But I am not even near deciding on which one.”

In a corner of Messing’s room is a compilation of random awards from 10 years of swimming. There are trophies for being a participant in GSC for an entire year, age group ribbons, club medals and team awards. Now there are two shiny orbs of gold on top; Messing’s first state medals, earned on the last day of his high school career.


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