Swimmer triumphs despite battling physical, motivational challenges

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swimStory and photo by Hannah Franklin

 Hours before sunrise, Corona del Sol senior Jacob Stewart dove into the water for swim practice but something was  different. He couldn’t breathe.

Hunched over, as his chest shook violently during a coughing fit, it was hard to tell he stands 6 feet 4 inches tall.

Stewart is a team captain and one of the only state qualifiers on his team. But it’s hasn’t always been smooth sailing.

During his sophomore year, Stewart became ill with mycoplasma pneumonia—a contagious respiratory infection that causes a persistent fever, dry cough and chest pain.

MP usually lasts only a few weeks with antibiotics but Stewart suffered for over six months because of a secondary case of asthma caused by the infection. 

“It affected my swimming so much because I couldn’t breathe or practice at all,” Stewart said. “I was getting so (ticked) off that it wouldn’t go away that I almost quit swimming.”

From January of his sophomore to November of his junior year, Stewart sat helplessly by as his team trained and competed without him.

Coach Ron Musgrave considers breathing and stroke technique the most important part of training a swimmer. If a swimmer is coughing and can’t breathe correctly, like Stewart, there’s no way to compete.

“We had to coach (him) to swim more efficiently again in order to help him with distances and to regain strength,” Musgrave said.

Stewart’s eventual return was discouraging and caused motivational setbacks. 

“I remember going to sectionals after I got better,” Stewart said. “I added 17 seconds to my 200-meter breast stroke time. It was so devastating and hard to be back because I felt so slow, but ultimately I’m glad I didn’t quit because this is what I love to do.”

Even after his setback, Stewart qualified and competed in the 2015 state championship.

“When I went to the state championship last year, I still had three seconds on my 100-meter breast stroke but this year I’m looking to swim it in 58 seconds,” Stewart said.

Stewart placed 23 out of 32, not making it past preliminaries in the 100 breast stroke with his time of 1:03.58. Getting 58 seconds would’ve placed him in the top five.

“Swimming can be stressful especially if you aren’t doing well, but I’ve got four more years of it so I need to stay motivated,” Stewart said.

Stewart wants to swim at the Colorado School of Mines, although his mother wishes he’d consider attending Arizona State University.

“It would be awesome to swim with Michael Phelps but the team’s times are too fast I’m just not so sure I’d make it. Plus Colorado is perfect for altitude training, which is beneficial for traveling meets because I’ll swim faster,” Stewart said.

Stewart is not only a top-notch athlete but also a seriously dedicated student.

He wants to major in mobile engineering, which involves composing mobile apps and phones. He is constructing a menu service app for a restaurant.

Stewart has mastered the difficult task of balancing school, practice, coaching youth swimmers, SAT prep classes, and his volunteer hours for National Honors Society and East Valley Boys Club.

“Sleep usually gets the short end of the stick,” Stewart said. “I almost fell asleep on the benches at practice a couple times.”

Stewart wakes up at 4 a.m., challenging his mind and his muscles to power through all the tasks of the day.

He’s a leader in and out of the pool, aiming for a podium spot at this season’s state championship on top of maintaining the high grades he needs to succeed after graduating this spring.

Hannah Franklin attends ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Communication.

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