As a 6-year-old, Michael Hamann started swimming competitvely for club teams. By 14, he set a zone record as part of a relay. Since then, he has qualified for state all four high school seasons but made his biggest mark this year.
It’s safe to say the Cary-Grove senior feels at home in the pool. But not every body of water.
“It’s quite ironic,” his mother Linda Hamann said. “When he was about 9 he was feeding fish off the pier, dropping in graham crackers, when a fish started to nibble at his toes. He got up and ran and ever since then he had been afraid of the fish and won’t swim in any sort of lake.
“You would think that since he’s such a talented swimmer he would swim anywhere, but unless he is seriously convinced by his friends, he won’t go swimming in a lake.”
His grandparents have a house on Lake Geneva in Wisconsin, so before his mom brought him to visit for the first time she wanted to make sure that he was water-safe. She started him in swim lessons at the age of 2.
“Right away, you could tell that he loved the water and was very comfortable in it,” Linda said.
At the start of his senior season, C-G co-op coach Rick Schaefer took his team on a bonding trip to the Devil’s Lake State Park camping grounds in Wisconsin. When Schaefer asked the kids to write down their goals for the season Hamann didn’t hesitate.
Already a three-time state qualifier before his senior season, there wasn’t much he hadn’t accomplished, but one had always eluded him.
“My biggest goals were a top-six finish at state in the 200 individual medley. It’s something I haven’t gotten to do,” Hamann said, “and we were hoping to get a relay in the top-12 as well.”
Hamann swam a full slate of events after qualifying for state in the 200 IM, 100 butterfly, 200 freestyle relay and 400 freestyle relay. He narrowly missed making the second day in the butterfly, but he made the finals for the IM as a the third seed and placed fourth after swimming a 1:52.75 in the final race of his high school career. He was the area’s only swimmer to advance to Saturday’s finals.
For his accomplishments, Hamann is the Northwest Herald Boys Swimmer of the Year.
He is the area’s most-decorated swimmer and someone whom Schaefer called “the best person I have had the privilege to coach.”
Throughout high school, it was common to see Hamann’s name next to a first-place finish. But he wanted to be great.
To do so he put on seven to 10 pounds of lean muscle in the offseason while doing a lot of stretching, getting massages once a month and even taking up pilates. Swimmers can’t afford to be too bulky, so he made sure to stay limber.
“Every day I worked hard,” Hamann said. “I had a sheet that told me my times from each meet last year and I would see my pace and how fast I was going every meet. I wanted to be ahead of last year’s times and I was always working harder and harder to make sure I continued to push myself.”
It could have been easy to get a big head after fielding numerous interviews this season while seeing his name atop headlines, but he credits his parents with keeping him grounded and teaching him the values he proudly displays. He greets people with a smile, has a near-perfect GPA and scored a 34 on his ACT his junior year.
“My parents are hard workers, and it’s something I was born with, too,” he said. “I always had the ability to focus on something to make sure I get it right. They told me, ‘Whatever you’re going to do, make sure you do it as best as you can,’ and that’s how I lived my life as long as I can remember.”
Next season, Hamann will swim at the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school that has multiple nationally ranked teams in the conference, and attend the Wharton School of Business.
“When he proved to be a good student academically, that was when we realized that his swimming and academics might come hand-in-hand,” Linda Hamann said. “We always pushed him academically first, and we couldn’t be more proud of him for what he has accomplished.”
Michael Hamann saw swimming as an opportunity.
“My whole goal from the beginning (of the college search) was to use my swimming to get me to a place I normally wouldn’t have gotten,” he said. “Being presented with an Ivy League opportunity is something that is even hard to dream about.”
Hamann took an official visit to Duke and Penn and was considering Columbia, but when he stepped foot on Penn’s campus he fell in love. And it was Hamann’s versatility that had Quakers coach Mike Schnur excited.
“He recruited me because he saw that I was so versatile,” said Hamann, who has swum the backstroke, butterfly and IM at an elite level. “He said that during the Ivy League championships he can fill me in wherever he needed to, and he liked that.”