Sitting on a bleacher overlooking the pool in the Northwest Allen County Schools Natatorium, Carroll swimming coach John Gibson is asked to reflect on senior Blaine Nichols and his four years as a Charger.
It takes two minutes and four seconds before he even mentions one of Nichols' accomplishments in the pool.
And it's not like there aren't any to talk about. This year alone, Nichols was one of the most consistent swimmers in the area and finished his career with a ninth-place finish in the 200 individual medley and 13th in the 100 breast stroke at state. His performance throughout the season and at the state meet earned Nichols The News-Sentinel Boys Swimmer of the Year award.
None of this is what immediately comes to Gibson's mind. Instead he talks about work ethic, leadership, attitude, determination and a multitude of adjectives and adverbs that all relate to one thing — Nichols is the hardest worker Gibson has ever coached.
“Blaine has single-handedly really taken our program to another level training-wise, which in turn has translated over to our performances,” Gibson said. “He's so determined to improve and always looking to get better, whether it's technique, just working hard in the pool, out of the pool. He's pulled everybody up another step or two on the ladder.”
This work ethic wasn't there in the beginning.
Nichols started swimming at 5 years old when his parents signed him up for a beginner class at the Helen P. Brown Natatorium. He enjoyed it and decided to swim competitively. This was followed by some early success, including a state championship in the 100 breast stroke for 12-and-unders, that kept him in the pool.
Then, early in high school, he saw where his efforts at that point were limiting him. Nichols finished 17th at state as a sophomore, one off from making it into the finals, and decided to make a change.
“I decided after that, I wanted to really work hard,” Nichols said. “I wouldn't say I was not working hard before, but I would be gassed at the end of sets and I would make sure that when I walked out of the pool, I gave it my all that day.”
While a lot of athletes see hard work as a necessary drawback to achieve what they want in a sport, Nichols looks forward to it. It's one of the biggest reasons he has been able to achieve everything he has in swimming.
That isn't to say he wasn't gifted with some ability. Gibson says Nichols had some natural attributes that were part of his success, but Gibson and Nichols both believe the senior's work ethic is the biggest reason for him becoming one of the best swimmers in the area.
“He's grown into it and developed it over the last few years, but he's pushed himself beyond what you'd expect,” Gibson said. “Just one of the hardest works day in and day out I've ever coached.”
Now all of the hard work is what Nichols enjoys most about the sport. He finds swimming to be an outlet from “all the other stressful stuff” going on where he can just “let it out.”
It's even one reason he is excited about swimming in college at Indiana University where the training regimen will increase.
“It's great here and stuff, I love it, I love my coach, but I'm ready to race the best in the country and they have a better training program there, and I know I'll get faster,” Nichols said. “I just love working hard and it's something I can work hard at every day.”
News-Sentinel All-Area Boys Swim and Dive Team
Blaine Nichols - Carroll
Benjamin Stone- Homestead
Gabriel Swardson - Snider
Landan Mintch - Snider
Kevin Frebel - Homestead
Brennan Lill - Snider
Cody Craig - Homestead
Cameron Frank - Homestead
Seth Johnson - Homestead
Grant Music - Carroll
Conner Whitaker - Homestead
Robbie Veenstra - Homestead