It all started out of curiosity for Caleb Swanson.
As a fourth-grader in Spearfish, Swanson saw a brochure for the swim team and decided to join. He was immediately hooked.
“I didn’t like baseball or soccer all that much, so I just decided to give swimming a try,” Swanson said. “I liked that it was sort of an individual sport, so I was able to succeed and perform at the best as I could based on my own terms, not anyone else’s. It was a nice competitive aspect to it that I really enjoyed.”
It seems like Swanson, 16, made the right choice as he has become one of Mitchell Aquatic Club’s top swimmers under first-year head coach Clyde Smith.
“He’s an analyzer,” Smith said. “He’s a student of swimming. He studies the stroke mechanics.”
Swanson will compete at the Corn Palace Invitational today through Sunday at the Mitchell Outdoor Aquatic Center.
Swanson’s favorite event is the butterfly due to the technical side of the stroke. It’s also the event Smith thinks is his strongest, citing the rhythm and effortless nature of his butterfly.
But the butterfly doesn’t define Swanson as a swimmer, who often swims the 200 and 400 individual medley.
“When they have the ability to swim the 200 and 400 IM, that means they can basically do everything well,” Smith said.
It’s evident by Swanson competing in freestyle, backstroke, butterfly and breaststroke of varying distances. He swims everywhere between 50 to 1,650 yards in freestyle and 100 and 200 yards in the other events.
Despite his versatility in the pool, the swimmer said, “I don’t know if I’d ever call myself a really good swimmer.”
His times say otherwise.
At the South Dakota Long Course State Championship last summer, Swanson competed in seven events at the 15-16 year old boys level. He won the 400 IM by more than eight seconds, finishing in 5:01.16, and also the 200 butterfly in 2:20.52, which was nine seconds faster than the rest of the field. He also placed second in the 200 IM and third in the 100 butterfly.
“Each time I’d make a state cut or get a state championship, or even get my sectionals cut, they were all kind of big boosts to how I felt about my swimming,” Swanson said.
Swanson got another big boost this winter at the South Dakota Short Course State Championship, where he swam in four events. He took first in the 400 IM by more than six seconds in 4:24.01 and later won the 200 fly in 2:04.77, while finishing third in the 100 fly, 200 IM, and 1,000 freestyle.
However, none of his success surprises Smith, who noticed his work ethic right away.
“I think that the first day of swim practice when he just kind of put his head down and did what I asked him to do,” Smith said, when asked when he noticed something special in Swanson. “I really kind of challenged him that first week just because we started late, and he just did the work.”
Smith thinks Swanson is someone younger kids are starting to look up to in terms of work ethic and speed in the water. Given Swanson’s “perfectionist” work ethic, as Smith likes to say, he had a one-word answer when asked if Swanson has a chance to swim collegiately, “Absolutely.”
“At 16, he’s where the top swimmers in Sioux Falls were that are going off to college on scholarships,” Smith said, referring to his coaching days at the Snowfox club. “... He could be a Division I swimmer if he keeps his work ethic up and all of that.”
Swanson still has a couple of more years left of high school, but that hasn’t stopped him from thinking about the next level, as well.
“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that a lot,” Swanson said. “After a few years of swimming, I realized it was something I really liked and that I’d like to do it for as many years as possible, so that includes college swimming.”
But Swanson isn’t looking too far ahead with the Corn Palace Invitational in Mitchell this weekend and sectionals in a month.
He continues to put in the work outside of the pool to keep improving his technique, which includes reading books recommended by Smith, and always has the expectation of swimming fast.
“My overall goal is just to be the best swimmer that I can,” Swanson said. “Wherever that takes me is amazing.”
If you go
Where: Mitchell Outdoor Aquatic Center
When: Friday (5:45 p.m.), Saturday (8:45 a.m., noon), Sunday (8:45 a.m., noon).