WHEN Sam Parker was a freshman, a fracture in his back left him in a brace, unable to start from the blocks and do flip turns in his swimming events.
Three years later, the Columbus North senior hopes to win a state championship in the 500-yard freestyle. With two weeks left before the boys postseason, Parker ranks ninth in the state in the 500 freestyle and 15th in the 200 freestyle.
“Freshman year, I fractured my back, so I had to swim in a brace, so I obviously didn’t do too well,” Parker said. “I knew I’d be back. It was just a matter of time.”
Parker made it to state as a sophomore, finishing 17th in the 500 freestyle and swimming on the 14th-place 400 freestyle relay team. He moved up to 12th in the 500 freestyle last season and just missed qualifying for state in the 200 freestyle.
Last week, Parker won the 200 freestyle in the Conference Indiana meet and finished second in the 500 freestyle behind Bloomington North’s Max Irwin, the defending state champion in the 100 butterfly. North coach Jim Sheridan is expecting Irwin to swim the 500 freestyle in the Columbus North Sectional.
“(Parker) was swimming against one of the best swimmers in the state of Indiana in the 500,” Sheridan said after the conference meet. “He took it out very strong the first half of the race, then was able to shut it down and relax to get ready for the 200 free relay. At the sectional, he’s going to be a lot different. He’ll be going after Max and trying to make the qualifying time or win the race.”
Parker, who also swims on the 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay teams for the fifth-ranked Bull Frogs, has emerged as a team leader this season.
“He’s a quiet guy,” Sheridan said. “We’ve asked him to step out of character and help to lead these guys. He’s a kid that lots of people look up to, and he never looks down on anybody.
“One of the things he’s done is, he walks around very tall with these young men,” he said. “He’s earned their respect and vice versa. These guys are standing tall and not running around just in a cliquish situation. They’re working together for everybody there, and Sam’s been instrumental in that all through the season.”
Junior Cody Taylor, who had a pair of top-four state finishes last season, agrees.
“He’s definitely the verbal leader of our team, and he’s one of the best in-the-water leaders of our team,” Taylor said. “He sets a really good example for the guys, and all the underclassmen look up to him.
“He’s so much of our energy,” he said. “He gets us hyped up in the locker room before meets. He’s really doing his job as a senior this year.”
Parker has shined out of the water, as well. He’s the senior class president and Spanish Club president. For his senior project, he has been speaking to elementary school students about getting proper nutrition.
“He’s trying to get everybody in the school a little more excited about just being in school, and he’s carried that right onto the pool deck,” Sheridan said.
A swimmer since the age of 5, Parker plans to continue the sport at the next level. He is considering DePauw, Wittenberg and Wabash.
“I always figured I’d swim in college,” Parker said. “I love racing, and I love the feeling at the end of the race when it’s you and someone else neck and neck battling it out.”