Rising Stars: Maxime Rooney
As of late, there has been a very big discussion within US swimming about the Veterans vs. the Rising Stars. It’s very interesting to sit and observe the up-and-comers ascend to the levels that we are used to seeing only seasoned pros at. What’s even more interesting, and most of the time much more refreshing, than seeing them swim ridiculously fast is hearing about their approach to swimming in general. What sets them apart from their age-alike peers isn’t the fact that they’re machine made swimmers ready for action no matter what; it’s the way they see the sport and themselves in it that truly allows them to perform at the same level as the big hitters.
Saying “this year has been a big year for high school senior Maxime Rooney” may just be the understatement of the year. This young man was named National Champion, JR World Champion, Pacific LSC Swimmer of the Year, and future Florida Gator within a 4 month span. He’s been consistently lighting it up at every meet he attends, from summer nationals, JR World Championships, Doha’s World Cup stop, and most recently Winter Nationals. And yet it’s not just his times that are so impressive. He loves the process; he loves training and putting the work in, and he’s grateful for every opportunity that he gets. That outlook is the real secret to Rooney’s success.
As we all remember (because seriously, how can you forget about this), Maxime attended the Doha world cup this fall, and right before the 200 prelims, his goggles broke. Despite this, and the fact that he was only 17, the meet referee would not hold up the meet. Many in this situation, young or old, would have chosen not to compete, or if they did, would have given up all hope of swimming a decent race. However, Maxime being the optimistic competitor that he is, was not about to give up the opportunity that had been presented to him. So he ripped his goggles off, dove in the water, and swam the best race he could at the time by counting his strokes. Instead of getting last in the heat or taking a DQ, this strategy got him 2nd seed going into finals with a 1:49.0, the only person ahead of him being the reigning world champion in the event, James Guy.
Was this all just because Maxime is a child protege and can swim fast no matter what the circumstances? Well, I won’t argue that Maxime is able to swim fast in most situations, but the “why” isn’t because of his talent. It’s because day in and day out, he puts in the work and sees swimming and competing in all forms as an opportunity to better himself. How else would he have known his stroke count going into that race, had he not spent days and days making it the picture of consistency that it is now?
It reminds me of another swimming great who’s goggles were taken away during a race on the big stage: Michael Phelps, circa 2008 Olympics in the 200 fly. We always say Phelps is genetically made for swimming, and while that may be true, he worked his butt off to get to where he is now. And we’ve seen what happens when Phelps doesn’t work (see 200 fly at the 2012 olympics, or 200 IM at the 2014 Pan Pacs). It’s not pretty.
In general, we are too quick to see someone swimming fast and assume that it’s all talent, or that they do so effortlessly. If you listen to Maxime, two things become very clear: training is very high on his priority list, and he is grateful for every opportunity he gets to do so. He looks at every chance he gets, good or bad, as a chance to grow and improve himself. Sure, he gets chances that others may not, like training at the Olympic Training Center for 3 weeks this winter, but he also expresses gratitude for it. His willingness to grow and his humility in doing so is truly what makes this young man a champion.