CANTON — The big payoff.
That’s what so many athletes wait for. They work for it, they hope for it and many want it more than anything. But not everyone gets it.
In the Division II State Swimming Championships on Saturday at C.T. Branin Natatorium, three Sandusky Bay Conference swimmers got theirs.
Seniors Michael Gallagher and Chris Waldock, and sophomore MacKenzie Stewart all won state titles Saturday in a spectacular showing for the area.
After four years, St. Mary Central Catholic’s Michael Gallagher finally got his.
Gallagher earned a gold medal in the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 1:52.77. It wasn’t easy.
“After all the time I’ve given up, it’s worth it 10 times over,” he said. “Everything I’ve ever done. Every practice I had to get up at 5:30. Every time I had to do dry runs after school. Everything. It was all worth it.
“At the time, I probably didn’t think it’d be worth it, but now that I finally got this … it is.”
Gallagher set the state record Friday night in the preliminaries, but he did not care too much. He cared Saturday, when he brought home St. Mary CC’s first swimming title in school history.
Gallagher swam so hard Waldock, his friend, seventh in the race at 1:56.96, had to pull him out of the pool. Gallagher, puffing, stayed down with one knee on the deck. Waldock put Gallagher’s hands over his head to make sure he didn’t collapse.
“It was probably one of the hardest races of my life,” Gallagher said. “That last 50 was the hardest thing I could ever remember. (Friday during the record-setting heat), it just felt so smooth, but today …
“I’m a little tired, but it’s just unbelievable. It’s something I’ve wanted for four years now, to do this. No words can explain it.”
Gallagher led the field the entire race and was the first to touch the wall, almost a full second before second place (1:52.77-1:53.75). He was the last one out of the pool.
Later in the meet, he took third in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 52.10 seconds.
A gold medal, a bronze, a new state record. Just how good was the weekend?
“It was perfect,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine anything better. It’s the way I wanted to end my career.”
Michele Gallagher, SMCC coach and Michael’s mother, put the medal for the 100 breaststroke around his neck.
Waldock had more words for Gallagher later in the meet.
“Michael’s the greatest,” Waldock said. “He’s the best physical specimen I’ve ever watched swim, and he’s got a work ethic to match it.”****
Waldock’s sick day is not like any ordinary sick day.
He was at the emergency room for two hours Saturday after with flu-like symptoms, from just after 1 p.m. to about 3:15 p.m., 15 minutes after the state finals warm-ups started.
“I was dizzy, couldn’t breathe, so they took me in there,” he said.
He went straight from the emergency room to the natatorium.
At about 6:30 p.m., the Perkins senior was atop the podium wearing gold.
He conquered the boys 100 yard butterfly with a time of 50.22. It also was his third race of the day in the first six boys events.
“I just wanted it so bad,” he said. “It’s been a goal of mine since seventh grade. I played soccer for the first two years (of high school), but then I quit so I could train for swimming, for this event. I train 12 months out of the year.”
It was Perkins’ first individual state champion ever. Waldock swam on the Pirates’ 200 medley relay a year ago that took first.
“Michael (Gallagher) and I train very much alike,” Waldock said. “It’s bust your butt every single day. No wasted days, whatsoever, in the pool.
“You have the days where you wonder if it will pay off, but by the time you get to this meet, you can’t have any doubts. You have to know the gold is yours.
“I’ll be honest, it was hard this morning having doubts, sitting in the emergency room, wondering what was wrong with me. It’s tough when you have obstacles that you weren’t expecting. I didn’t expect to wake up this morning super sick or anything.
“I feel fine right now. I’m probably running on adrenaline, but it’s all right.”
“That’s a good win,” said Margaretta swim coach Joe Groscost, who pumped his fist in victory for the SBC.
Port Clinton’s MacKenzie Stewart knew she had a shot in the finals when she took second Friday in the preliminary round.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but I was hoping for it,” said Stewart, the 2009 fourth-place finisher.
She got it.
Stewart took the medal in the 200 IM with a 2:05.92. She swam to the rope to greet one of her best friends, Perkins’ Stephanie Gyurke, one lane over.
Their childhood friendship overtook any negative feelings they had as opponents in the pool. After all, they helped each other get there.
“We used to swim together, and during practice we’d push each other,” Stewart said. “We were always battling. She’d win, then I’d win. Either way, we don’t really care, as long as one of us won.”
Gyurke finished fourth overall with a time of 2:07.20.
“It’s really exciting, she said. “I haven’t gotten a fourth place yet. And then to have your best friend, like a sister, win it? Wow.”
Dan Diaz, Stewart’s coach, said she “laid it all out on the line.”
“She was phenomenal,” he said. “We both knew that she had it in her, but it was just a matter of making it happen here at the state meet. It’s something you dream about, being able to coach a state champion who’s only a sophomore.”
Stewart also finished with a bronze medal in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:04.05. Liberty Union’s Maddie Lawhorn, who set a record of 1:03.09 Friday in the preliminary round, repeated her dominant performance in the finals, 1:03.25.