Recovering from a broken knee wasn’t enough to keep swimmer Michael Hochwalt from making a splash in several competitions that earned him a spot in the Olympic Trials in June.
Hochwalt, a senior at Mt. Spokane High School, has been swimming with the Spokane Aquatic Waves Team for 10 years and has worked with head coach Sean Muncie for the past five. During that time, Hochwalt has competed at various meets throughout the United States and has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments.
The biggest came in August at the USA Swimming Junior National Championship when he became a USA Olympics Trials qualifier in four events: the 200 individual medley, 400 individual medley, 200 butterfly and 200 backstroke.
Earlier this year, he was named to the USA Swim World Junior Team and was a junior national champion in the 200 individual medley.
“I think the biggest achievement I’ve had this year was overcoming a broken knee and actually somehow improving at a really fast rate despite that,” said Hochwalt, 18.
When Hochwalt broke his knee last fall after backflipping off a diving board, his mother was worried about how the injury would impact him mentally. She would know: Jennifer Hochwalt is the swim coach at Cheney High School.
“I was more worried about that than anything – how he would learn to overcome this challenge,” she said. “He just focused on what he could do in that moment, what his body was capable of.”
Hochwalt said he got back in the water faster than his doctors expected, doing what he could with his arms and good leg in the pool while being diligent about the physical therapy for his knee’s rehabilitation.
“I think (the injury) giving me a little bit of a mental break at the time was super important,” Hochwalt said. “I got to reevaluate my goals. I also worked on a bunch of technical points that I otherwise might not have worked on.”
Breaks are important when you’ve been swimming for as long as you can remember, said Hochwalt, whose mother decided to put her son in swim lessons at an early age so he would be safe around the water.
“My parents both encouraged it because they were swimmers, but they also let me try other sports,” Hochwalt said, adding that he also wrestled and competed in cross country.
“I’ve been with (the swim) community longer than any other communities, so it’s what I’ve grown up with (and) what I’ve known, so it’s what I decided to stick with,” he said.
Hochwalt is looking forward to June when he competes in Indianapolis at the Olympic Trials against the best swimmers in the U.S.
“I’ve had a lot of people that I’ve looked up to and it’s gonna be a really nice experience to actually race against all those people who are role models in my life,” he said.
“He’s gonna have a lot of racing to do, which is really fun,” Muncie said.
Hochwalt believes his best opportunity to make the U.S. Olympics team will be in the 400 individual medley.
“It’s considered the hardest and it would be really cool to say, ‘Hey, I’m (swimming) the hardest event,’ ” Hochwalt said. “It’s probably the (event) I have the best chance in.”
Muncie is confident Hochwalt will thrive in the event since he excels at all four strokes.
“Not all swimmers are able to put all four strokes together the way he (has) … so very well-rounded, (with) a lot of speed,” Muncie said. “It’s very aerobic oriented, which means he’s also good at the longer distance races. So, he’s in a good spot.”
Regardless of his outcome at the trials, Hochwalt will be swimming with Olympians – one of which is France’s Léon Marchand – when he starts his freshman year at Arizona State University next fall.
“(ASU) is one of the top (swimming) programs in the country right now,” Muncie said.
Hochwalt will be coached by his childhood hero, Michael Phelps’ coach Bob Bowman, who is head coach of the swim and dive program at ASU.
“I wanted a big branch of (individual medley racers) to compete with on a daily basis in practice,” Hochwalt said.
“It’d be really cool to train with the top athletes in the world because I think after training with the top people, I might become just as good as the top people. Hopefully, better.”