North Port swimmer Michael Sickels had plenty of pressure heading into the final meet of his high school career.
It was his second trip to the state meet, but the upper-level competition was only part of his challenge.
Sickels, who at that point had no college offers, also knew that this was his opportunity to impress the college scouts who were going to be in the stands watching him compete.
“It was a little bit more pressure than some of the other kids,” Sickels said. “The competition is already so intense. You’re swimming with some of the best swimmers in the nation. It was a lot.”
Sickels qualified in the 100 backstroke. He knew it was his final time swimming as a member of the North Port program and had the goal of reaching the podium for the first time. He finished 11th as a junior.
He accomplished his goal by finishing seventh with a school record time of 51.6 seconds.
“Throughout training, that was on my mind,” Sickels said. “When I got on the podium, it was the best feeling in the world. Definitely my favorite memory.”
That finish caught the attention of the coaches at Lynn University, who invited him for a visit the school. Sickels said he felt right at home at the Boca Raton campus, signing on to swim as a Fighting Knight.
It was a decision that capped a four-year career with the Bobcats, helping to build that program and leave a lasting legacy far beyond his records and achievements.
“Mike was a great inspiration for the rest of the team,” North Port coach Paul Maglicane said. “He set his goals high, stayed focused, and achieved them, all the while keeping a positive attitude.”
The program has continued to grow and reached a major milestone this year with the opening of the North Port Aquatic Center across the street from the school. Prior to that, the team shuttled to the Venice YMCA to practice.
“When I started as a freshman, a lot of people didn’t even know North Port had a swim team,” Sickels said. “The new pool has definitely helped turn heads and make people more interested in swimming. Even with me and the other seniors leaving, I think they’ll be just fine.”
He said the pride he that took in pushing his teammates and his desire to make his parents proud were driving factors during his swim career.
That and his love for the sport.
That’s what helps him wake up in the dark hours before school to practice and condition in one of the harder sports to prepare for. It’s also what will keep driving him at the collegiate level.
“Swimming is one of those sports where you have to do it every single day to be good at it,” Sickels said. “It’s brutal, it’s very difficult. You have to be in really good shape to be able to swim for 2 1/2 hours. But I fell in love with swimming a long time ago and have been swimming for a long time and I still love it.”