Olympian Feigen makes guest showing at Minot swim camp
A group of 40 kids stood on the edge of the pool at Minot High School and scanned the water as United States Olympic gold medalist swimmer James “Jimmy” Feigen demonstrated the drills they were about to do.
Feigen went back and forth across the first lane in the pool and broke down all the intricacies he was going to be looking for once his students took to the water. His serious tone and threats of pushups for possible infractions was quickly masked by laughter moments later, as Feigen did another lap to demonstrate a different drill and proceeded to splash the kids alongside the pool in the process.
Led by special guest Feigen, the evening swim session on the third day of the four-day North Dakota Elite Swim Camp on Saturday in Minot provided a memorable and unique experience for all involved.
“We bring Olympians to Minot so they can listen to their stories and just get inspired to continue in the sport and move on to a different level at some point, that’s really the motivation,” Minot native and camp director Matthew Lowe said. “As far as myself, I’m now a sports chiropractor and I don’t coach anymore. No private lessons or clinics. This is the only thing I do with the sport beside treating athletes at my practice. So, for me to be able to stay close to this (sport) and continue to give back to Minot and North Dakota swimming, that’s what I want to do.”
Lowe was a member of the United States swim team, a two-time NCAA national champion at the University of Texas and a seven-time individual state champion at Minot High School, which led the Magi to six straight state championships from 1999 to 2004.
This is the third summer Lowe has run the swim camp in Minot and each time he has brought in a new Olympian swimmer: Aaron Peirsol (2016) and Ricky Berens (2015).
“It’s invaluable,” Lowe said about having the Olympians help with the camp. “I got to experience what they are experiencing. I remember the Olympians that came here (when I was kid) and their stories. I remember holding those gold medals and it’s something that you can’t get anywhere else. Jimmy (Feigen) is a 2012 and a 2016 Olympian and he has a gold medal, you aren’t going to go down the street or to the mall and find someone like that. There is nobody else here that can provide that kind of insight on how to get to that level.”
At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, Feigen competed in the preliminary heat of the 4×100 freestyle relay for Team USA that eventually went on to win gold.
“It was fun, crazy,” Feigen said about the Olympics. “Everyone around you is an elite athlete. There is so much care and so much diligence that goes into their craft. For every single person there, this is the pinnacle of their career and lives. Just to be a part of that with everyone is a very humbling experience.”
However, not everything went to plan. Feigen was also infamously caught up in the Rio robbery scandal that made international news with teammates Ryan Lochte, Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz.
“I learned a lot of lessons from the whole controversy,” he said. “Now it’s just getting back to normal and putting it all behind me. If I could go back, I would do some things differently, obviously. But, really, it’s taking and learning from that and putting it to good use now.”
Providing teaching moments was what Feigen was after on Saturday.
“I like to think that every time that I come and do one of these, and I have done hundreds of them, that it puts a concrete reality to this dream that they hope to one day obtain,” Feigen said. “We are teaching and inspiring a generation, and it’s cool to be a part of that. It’s nice to give back to the community, so I get something out of it too. I think the kids enjoy having me here and I enjoy it just as much as they do.”
The four-day camp goes beyond the pool with different activities such as yoga and rock climbing as well. Every day is chalked full with activities and informational meetings from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
“The goal is for them to take away one or two things each day that they can take and apply to their practices, whether that be in the water or on dry land,” Lowe said. “They don’t have to remember everything that I say or what Jimmy says or any of the other coaches, but we hope they can pick up a few things to make them better next season.”
When it comes down to it, becoming an elite athlete starts with the training.
“There is a talent component, but we have a famous saying, ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,'” Feigen said. “If you are super talented and you don’t put in the work, then your talent isn’t going to be worth much. It takes a combination of both to make it to the Olympics. But, it doesn’t take a combination of both to have fun.
“You can go race in these meets, have fun in practice and you may never make the Olympic team, so few people ever do. But, it shouldn’t have to be about that. It should be about having fun and the spirit of competition. That general vibe.”
In the essence of having fun, when asked about his former teammate – the most decorated Olympian of all-time – Michael Phelps racing a great white shark for Shark Week, Feigen went with the home terrain advantage.
“Ah, Phelps is fast, but we are land creatures,” he said. “We are not meant to be in the water, so it’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I put my money on the shark, unfortunately. But, never count out Michael.”
Alex Eisen covers Minot High School, Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.