Ethan S. Banks, from Pepper Pike, Ohio, commits to Dartmouth College. Banks attends University School in Hunting Valley, a suburb of Cleveland. He’s a Scholastic All-American, two-time Team MVP, 2018 Team Captain, three-time First Team All-Area Swimmer, three-time state finalist in 500 free (sixth as freshman, fifth as sophomore, third as junior), two-time state finalist 200 free (seventh as a sophomore and sixth as a junior), and an Ohio Division II state champion in 2018.
Banks is also a close friend of a life-long friend of mine, sports writer and bestselling author, Joe Posnanski. Joe’s written for everyone from Sport Illustrated to NBC Sports. He has penned four books, and he’s currently working on a fifth.
From Sports Feature Writer and Author Joe Posnanski:
“I am proud to announce my commitment to Dartmouth College! I cannot wait to join the team and develop as an athlete and a student. Thank you to everyone who got me to this point, especially my parents, coaches and friends. I would also like to thank Coach Holder, Coach Socha, and Coach Sacco for giving me this wonderful opportunity.”
– Ethan S. Banks
My lifelong pal Melvin Stewart here at SwimSwam — we go back to those days when you could still call Mel “Melvin” — has kindly offered me the chance to tell you a story about our virtual-son Ethan Banks. I’ve known Ethan since the day he was born. His parents, Jim and Wendy, are the sorts of friends, well, you know, he was best man at my wedding, I was an officiant at their wedding, etc. My wife Margo and I held Ethan in our arms nine months before our oldest daughter was born. He’s like our practice kid.
Ethan just committed to swim at Dartmouth; you can read about that in the commitment section. Anyway, we’re bursting with pride over here.
The point of this story is not that it’s unique … quite the opposite. I’m sure it will sound utterly familiar. Mel tells me that SwimSwam publishes all college commitments — more than 1,200 every year. Every one of those 1,200 is an inspirational story of a young woman or man who has dedicated so much to excel at this wonderful and a little bit crazy objective of moving faster through water.
As a lifelong sportswriter lucky enough to follow the games around the world — I’ve covered sports on six continents, 45 states and all that jazz — I’m particularly awed by swimmers. That began with Mel; he was the first athlete I ever got to know in-depth. We co-wrote a daily diary leading up to his first Olympics, 1988 in Seoul.
And I remember the question I asked him over and over was: Why? I mean, you know this: Swimming is hard. It’s painful. It’s monotonous. What is it that drives a person to go to the pool every day, stare at the line at the bottom of the pool, swim until your body feels like all the blood has been drained from it? What is it that pushes those 1,200 athletes you see in the college commitment section of SwimSwam to, well, stay so committed, so focused, so determined that they swim their way to wonderful schools like (let me look at the commitment page now) Cincinnati (Congrats Kevin!) and Tulane (you’re the best Mya!) and BYU (amazing Tyler!) and Penn (way to go Margot!).
When Ethan was 4, we all vacationed together in Florida. At that point, our oldest daughter Elizabeth was 3, our youngest Katie was only weeks old. With kids that age, obviously, we spent most of our time at the hotel pool. And what I remember is that Ethan wanted to race. All the time. He wasn’t a swimmer yet; he had only just learned. He flailed around in the water — more splash than movement — but that didn’t matter. He kept wanting to race.
Ethan’s Dad, Jim — I say this lovingly; he is, after all, one of my oldest and dearest friends — is kind of a jerk. He kept beating Ethan in races. Well, I don’t know if that makes him a jerk; there are different theories on whether a parent should let their kids win at anything. I’ve written many, many stories about great athletes (including books about golfer Tom Watson and baseball star Pete Rose) who were driven by their parents’ stubborn refusal to ever let them win.
But, I mean, Ethan was 4. Come on, Jim.
In any case, Jim kept winning, and Ethan kept getting madder and madder. “OK,” he would say, “that didn’t count.” And then, next race, “No, wait, I got a bad start, that didn’t count.” And then the next race, “No, someone got in my way, that didn’t count.” And the next race …
This went on and on for a shocking amount of time. Our daughter, Elizabeth, she really had no interest in any of it. She just liked floating around in the water, hanging out, talking about her feelings. And, yeah, that’s Elizabeth.
But Ethan … let’s race again … let’s race again … let’s race again.
I’m sure every one of you parents can think of a hundred moments like that. Let’s race again. There was no plan for the Banks family to spend the next 14 years driving from pool to pool, sitting through the endless heats of 9-year-old 100-meter freestyle, celebrating personal bests, fretting over a lost second here and there, pondering flip turns. Jim didn’t swim; he has worked for Major League Baseball just about all of Ethan’s life. Wendy was a recovering diver. They didn’t plan for this.
But Ethan … let’s race again … let’s race again … let’s race again.
This was the life they had to live.
None of it was easy. None of it is ever easy, right? When you write about sports, particularly Olympic sports, you write a lot about sacrifice. I can’t begin to estimate how many times I’ve written about those families, those coaches, those athletes who give up everything of themselves to achieve such great heights as, whatever, figure skaters or gymnasts or divers or tennis players or swimming.
But as many times as I’ve written it, Ethan was the first athlete I’ve followed from the very beginning. He was the first one who helped me LIVE it. And it was stressful. You swimming family members know this. There were triumphant moments. There were nerve-racking moments. There were races when a shocking amount of time came off and we all made Olympic plans. There were others when everything seemed to go backward and we all wondered what comes next.
But here was the thing that inspired us through it all:
Ethan never stopped wanting that next race.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go buy a Dartmouth swimming T-shirt.
Banks Personal Bests, LCM
Personal bests at 2018 NCSA meet in Indianapolis in 100, 200, 400 (12th), 800 and 1500 (19th) Freestyle
50 Free 26.54 26.19
100 Free 56.31 54.19
200Free 1:58.67 1:55.44
400 Free 4:06.51 4:02.55
800 Free 8:31.27 8:27.10
1500 Free 16:32.23 16:17.64
Banks Personal Bests, SCY
50 Free: 22.76
100 Free: 48.88
200 Free: 1:42.18
500 Free: 4:33.20
1000 Free: 9:25.88
1650 Free: 16:01.91