By Brandon Hurley
Greene County High school senior-to-be Nick Schroeder can’t lose. It’s just something he doesn’t do.
Some of the world’s most famous and successful athletes (Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Muhammed Ali, Michael Phelps) were driven by their desire to win and they did whatever it took took to get to the top.
The same passion burns inside Schroeder, which has has pushed him to six straight undefeated summers in the pool for the Jefferson Swim team.
All he does is win.
“I hate losing,” Schroeder said following a morning swim practice last week.
So go ahead and crown Michael Phelps as the best swimmer of this generation but Schroeder is definitely one of the most decorated swimmers in the Iowa West Swim Conference history.
Schroeder’s career actually eerily mirrors that of Bryant’s, the NBA superstar and Los Angeles Lakers legend who recently retired. They both spent their childhoods in Italy, playing soccer, eventually coming to the United States for their high school education.
And while Schroeder has a long way to go to even light a torch to Bryant’s accomplishments, one can see why the Greene County student has a similar drive.
GROWING UP IN A FOREIGN LAND
For the first 13 years of his life, Schroeder lived with his family 45 minutes outside of Rome, as missionaries. The family made frequent mission trips to Nairobi, Kenya and felt living in Italy was better suited for their family instead of making several long flights from the U.S. each year.
Italy is where his love for swimming blossomed, but it was in Jefferson where his passion originated.
Schroeder’s grandparents lived in town, so he would make summer trips to Iowa to compete on the swim team.
Athletics are more specialized in Italy than they are in America. There are no seasons - you pick a sport as a youth and you participate in that said sport all year round.
But Schroeder didn’t pick swimming, he chose soccer, the game that is pretty much synonymous with Italians.
After several years of soccer, a hamstring injury led Schroeder to give an aquatic lifestyle a more serious look.
“I ended up swimming and I really liked it. It was fun when I came to summer swim team, so I thought I’d try it,” Schroeder said. “There was a pool right by our house, so that’s kind of how I got started. We’d drive to meets that were five-six hours away, but it was fun.”
Schroeder and his family moved to the United States when he was in eighth grade and it took him a little bit of time to adjust to the American swim culture full-time. He didn’t even have a desire to go out for the swim team, and sat out his freshman year.
“The events are completely different. In Italy, there’s a 1,000-meter swim,” Schroeder said. “Here, the longest one is 500-yards. And then there’s meter to yards. Yards are shorter than meters, so that was a big change.”
Swimming, even as a junior high student, was grueling across the pond. A large chunk of each day was spent in the pool training.
“We practiced a lot more there. We’d go for about three to four hours a day (continuous),” Schroeder said. “Here, for high school swimming, we go for about two hours, morning and night, so it’s four hours, but it’s split up.”
Each Italian practice was meticulously structured.
“It was tough, I had never done anything like that,” Schroeder said. “We’d swim for two hours, do dry land exercises for an hour, stretch for an hour and then we’d do yoga just to relax.”
A WELCOMED GROWTH SPURT
Schroeder was at one point, a marathon swimmer. But as he’s grown, and gotten older and stronger, he’s excelled at the shorter events.
As an eighth grader, Schroeder stood at 5’10,” not short by any means, especially at the age of 13, but he hit a big growth spurt his sophomore year. He now stands about 6’3,” with long arms complimented by a long torso and long legs - perfect for cutting through the water in the pool.
“Your arms, if they are three inches longer than someone, you’re getting three inches more of water (each stroke),” Schroeder’s dad and Jefferson swim team coach, Jeff Schroeder said. “Coming into the wall, your reach is the difference. Your arm length can determine how quickly you can get to the wall.
“The shorter swimmers, their starts are great and they are more powerful. Where the taller swimmer has more length, the shorter swimmer will be better underwater.”
Schroeder has become a force in the sprint events using his length to compete in four to five races each meet - the backstroke, individual medley, the 100-yard freestyle, the 50-yard freestyle and a relay event, always coming out on top.
At give or take 10 meets per summer, across six years, that’s roughly 300 consecutive victories Schroeder has collected.
And while he’s not always facing the stiffest of competition - sometimes he’s even competing just against the clock - it’s a feat that’s nothing to sneeze at.
On Saturday, Schroeder was crowned Conference champion in the backstroke, individual medley, the 100-yard freestyle and the 50-yard freestyle. The victories completed a run in which Schroeder hasn’t lost a conference race since he was 11.
LOADING UP ON CARBS
A steady, high calorie diet plays a significant role in Schroeder’s sterling success. He’s constantly consuming food. He needs to eat. It’s calorie counting but in reverse – Schroeder pushes himself to consume as much protein as he can each day.
The food helps his body replenish the nutrients he exerts in swim practice, so he doesn’t collapse from exhaustion. It helps him continue training at a high rate.
It’s the famous Michael Phelps diet, but on a somewhat smaller scale.
“(I eat) lots of food - 8,000 calories a day, or at least I try to,” he said. “Lots of chicken, lots of meat. I try to eat two or three salads a day. Protein shakes, protein bars.”
He may get weird looks at school - especially when he’s lugging around a gallon of milk with him, each day - but it’s necessary to maintain a healthy weight and muscle mass.
Protein is the most vital part of the diet - hence the milk, shakes, chicken and protein bars.
“I’ll eat six protein bars a day,” he said. “It’s tough at first, but I get used to it.”
Schroeder also scarfs done a gigantic meal the night prior to a meet.
“I try to carb load the night before - like steak,” he said. “I eat a lot of pasta - three to four bowls the night before, protein bars, protein shakes.”
By now, his peers, friends and family have become accustomed to his unorthodox eating habits.
“A lot of people want to try it, so they do it, but can’t,” Schroeder said. “It’s a lot.”
A DIFFERENT SUMMER VIEW
The biggest difference Schroeder said he notices when swimming outdoors in relation to an indoor pool, is when he swims the backstroke. There’s no guide when he looks up, he’s just gazing straight into the blue summer skies.
“You can’t really find yourself. In an indoor pool, you have a beam going across so you can kind of guide yourself,” Schroeder said. “I usually get faster times outside because there is more oxygen. I have more buoyancy inside. The wind plays a factor on the dives, but it hasn’t been too windy this summer.”
Schroeder qualified for the indoor state meet in 2016 as a member of the Boone swim team. He broke the school record in the 50-yard freestyle placing seventh and finished eighth overall in the 100-yard freestyle.
Schroeder isn’t just a one sport star either, he plays football in the fall for Greene County as a receiver and has played for the Boone soccer team in the past. That multi-sport participation has led to increased strength, as he hits the weight room with regularity.
“(Nick) has really improved his strength,” Jeff Schroeder said. “A lot of the guys he’s competing against, they practice year round. (For Nick), he may lack a little bit in the technical aspects, but he’s a lot stronger than most of them, and playing multiple sports I think helps that. You’re working a lot of different muscles. He’s competitive enough that he’s going to work hard and put himself in a position to win every time.”
Splitting up his time across several different sports does take away from practice time in the pool. That, and the fact he’s taken on coaching duties alongside his dad on the summer swim team.
In reality, he’s entering just his third year of high school swimming this winter, so a few improvements are understandable.
In order for him to reach his ultimate goal, placing on the podium (the top six) in each indoor state event he qualifies for, Schroeder must improve his turns and his underwater technique. If he can stay underwater longer, it’ll improve his stamina, his dad said.
“For instance, on the start, he’ll be the first one up (out of the water),” Jeff Schroeder said. “I think a lot of it for him is psychological, he doesn’t think he’s good underwater. He’s fine, he just wants to get up and go. If he had all year to work on that, the coaches would hammer on that. He’s only got three months with the school program.”
The senior-to-be hopes to play football at the next level when he graduates - he’s eyeing a spot on the UNI Panther roster. His love for football deters him from practice in the pool, but his natural athleticism and his length help him transition well.
Schroeder has cherished every minute, hour, and lap he’s spent in the Jefferson Pool each summer for the last six years, even if he doesn’t get much time to practice. In fact, he hasn’t officialy practiced once this year.
Imagine what he can do when he finds time to train.