by Alan Hieber
Distance swimming can be one of the more grueling parts of the sport.
Wright State freshman swimmer Maddie Eckley may be fresh off the blocks, but she has already proven to have the attitude and work ethic required for distance racing.
Eckley was a four-time state qualifier at Centerville and a member of the Dayton Raiders club swimming team.
Currently Eckley has a sister and brother at Centerville who compete in dancing and bowling respectively. Sharing the experience with her siblings of juggling schoolwork and sports had an impact.
“Coming home to a family that understood that and could encourage me, push me and be there for me when I needed them made a huge difference,” Eckley said.
When choosing a college program to swim for the combination of academics, coaching staff, team atmosphere, athletic department and close proximity to home led Eckley to WSU.
This season Eckley has started to pick up where she left off by recording the Raiders’ fastest times in the 200 (1:53.35), 500 (5:04.52), 1000 (10:42.32) and 1650 (18:02.60) freestyles.
Though she hasn’t matched all of her high school and club times yet, WSU coach Kyle Oaks gave Eckley praise based off what he has seen so far.
“She (Eckley) is the fastest mid-distance or distance swimmer I have coached,” Oaks said. “Her performance results are not there yet, but in training she has done some ridiculous things that I have never seen any female swimmer do at Wright State.”
Feeling that Eckley wasn’t being challenged enough in training, Oaks decided to make her do all of the men’s practice cycles and swim at the same intervals as them. This hasn’t fazed her very much.
“It was really intimidating at first, but I liked it. They push me really hard, and I think I push them a little too,” Eckley said. “When I’m swimming with the guys sometimes I feel like I have to prove myself.”
“On several occasions she (Eckley) outperformed some of our guys,” Oaks said. “She has a lot of respect from her women's teammates, but she has a lot of respect from the men's team as well.”
“I think we're still wondering when we will finally give her something she truly struggles with.”
Though the experience of collegiate swimming is still fairly new for Eckley, her attitude would suggest otherwise.
“She (Eckley) has an exceptionally powerful level of determination,” Oaks said. “I have never seen her spiral into a naysayer. She takes challenges head-on and keeps herself mentally checked in.”
At Wednesday morning’s practice in the WSU Natatorium the women’s team was completing a workout where one swimmer pulls the other one length of the pool with a long cord.
The cord workout simulates swimming at a faster pace, and it’s taxing training like this where Eckley says the support of her teammates pays off.
“They definitely encourage me a lot,” Eckley said. “If we’re doing a really long set and the sprinters have finished they are in the pool cheering for the distance swimmers.”
Another sight at the morning practice session was Oaks giving his team advice in the middle of their workout. It’s this ability to see a level of potential in his swimmers that they might not see in themselves and his belief in them that Eckley has taken notice of.
“He (Oaks) is your biggest cheerleader and fan. At practice he is running up and down the pool deck cheering for you,” Eckley said. “He is also very smart and knows so much about swimming. I try to absorb all of that because the more that I know the faster I can swim.”
In a meet against Xavier last month Eckley won the 200, 500 and 1000 freestyle races. As a result she garnered an increased sense of confidence going into next week’s Horizon League championship meet. Strong performances in the pool like this earned her the nickname ‘Mad Dog’ from her teammates.
At the conference meet Eckley plans to enter the 1650, 500 and 200 freestyles and hopes to place in the top eight in each. Later on in her WSU career her goal is to swim an NCAA A or B standard time.
Eckley has plenty of strokes left to take for the Raiders and time to find out what her legacy will be when she reaches the end of the pool.
“One thing is for sure. She (Eckley) is going to be exciting to watch,” Oaks said.