It’s been a storied journey for swimmer Micah Simpson. The road toward a state championship has been long and lightly traveled.
The Hawken School senior has his sights on Division II state titles in the 200-yard freestyle and the 100 free this season. He was runner-up in both events at last year’s state meet and has been All-Ohio (top 16) 10 times since his freshman season.
Simpson’s swim career began with the Vermilion YMCA Polar Bears when he was 4 years old. He then swam for the Lorain YMCA Torpedoes until he was 11.
Simpson, who grew up in Florence Township, switched to the Lake Erie Silver Dolphins and transferred from the Firelands school district to the Hawken district because of the uncertainty created when the Lorain YMCA shuttered its doors.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder commuted for five years to Gates Mills. His late grandfather, Leon Simpson, picked him up at 4:30 in the morning for early practice and school every day. Then either his mother, Noelle, or grandmother, Marilyn, picked him up.
The daily trek was 66 miles one way, or about one hour and 15 minutes. Simpson’s family amassed 410,000 miles over the years between two family cars — a Honda Element and a Ford Focus. The Element is officially “retired.”
“Swimming has always been a passion for me ever since I was little,” Simpson said. “I was originally into soccer and my mom got me into swimming. Honestly, at first, I didn’t like swimming, but I learned to love both the individual and team side of it. I like that about swimming. It’s just as much an individual sport as it is a team sport. That’s what has really driven me.”
A Baptist minister for Firelands Church, Leon Simpson died suddenly in October 2009. Noelle bought an apartment in Beachwood so Simpson could continue to attend Hawken.
“My dad was so faithful,” said Noelle, a single parent. “He would have Micah up at 4-4:30 every day because practice was at 5:45. My dad would make sure Micah was there on time. Without my dad I don’t think Micah would be over there.”
So why pick Hawken over other private school programs like St. Edward or St. Ignatius?
“Lake Erie Silver Dolphins would swim against Micah when he was young and were usually his main competition,” said Noelle, a Kentucky native. “When we thought about moving him we thought about moving him to the best team. The Silver Dolphins train at Hawken. We thought it would be cool if Micah could go to school there because he could train and go to school.”
Noelle went with her gut feeling that Hawken was the place to go.
“When Micah was 10 he had nine top-16-in-the-nation times,” she said. “From that point on we kept in USA Swimming and he didn’t swim YMCA level meets any more.”
And it was an accident that gave Simpson’s mother the idea to push him toward swimming.
“He fell when he was swinging on a goal post after soccer practice and had a cast all the way up his left arm at 4½,” Noelle said. “It’s amazing he could still swim in the deep end with one arm. That’s when I knew he loved the water and could maneuver in it.”
The summer after kindergarten, Simpson tried out for the Polar Bears. Within a month, he learned every stroke even though he never had formal swim lessons. Dave Richards asked Simpson to join the year-round swim program at the Lorain YMCA and the young athlete’s swimming career was started.
“I knew Micah was going to be an excellent swimmer,” said Richards, who coached the Lorain YMCA Torpedoes from 1999-2009. “He had a great sense of balance in the water as well as the ability to not ever get tired. His attention was difficult to work with at first, but he grew into an exceptional swimmer. As a 5- and 6-year-old he was breaking 8-year-olds records and as an 8-year-old he was making zone cuts for 9-and 10-year-olds.
“We hated to lose him from our program because of the talent he had,” Richards said. “He would have broken every record we had and his times now would place him in the top 3 at the YMCA national level. I have been so proud to have been a part of his early years of swimming and hope that some of the foundation we gave him is part of the reason he is having the success he is having now.”
Simpson has qualified to 12 state meet events in his first three years of high school.
He clocked 1:40.65 for the 200 free and 46.38 for the 100 free at last year’s state meet. He also placed fourth as a member of the 200 medley relay (1:37.68) and fifth as a member of the 400 free relay (3:15.09). His efforts helped the Hawks to finish fifth as a team with 130 points, just seven points out of third place.
What’s the difference this season as Simpson makes a run his state championships?
“It’s all going to be about technique,” he said. “It’s all going to be about the small things — details, details, details. I’ve been swimming with a lot of passion and a lot of heart, but really I’ve got to swim smarter races. That’s what my coaches have been really emphasizing and talking about at practice.”
Micah placed sixth in both the 200 free (1:44.32) and 500 free (4:42.42) at state as a sophomore, plus was sixth as a member of the 200 medley relay (1:40.20) and 11th as a member of the 400 free relay (3:21.53). As a freshman, he was eighth in the 500 free (4:48.32) and 14th in the 200 free (1:46.55). He also finished 17th both as a member of the 200 medley relay (1:42.62) and 400 free relay (3:23.16).
“Coach Dave (Richards) had a huge impact on me,” said Simpson, who is considering Ohio State, Miami of Ohio, Cleveland State and Eastern Michigan. “He’s the first one that talked serious swimming to me. He challenged me to whether I wanted to make this a sport that I wanted to do for the rest of my life or not. I really give him credit for that. I owe him a lot for that.
“I had my doubts early on in my career on how this was all going to work out with handling academics and athletics, especially traveling from the far West Side. I had my doubts on how that whole schedule was going to work out in terms of time management, but Hawken has been great to me and helping me on the side with my homework. That has really allowed me to become the swimmer that I am.”
Contact Paul Heyse at 329-7135 or email@example.com.