It’s a Missouri swimming and diving team tradition for the seniors to impart wisdom as their careers wind down during the weeks leading up to the SEC Swimming and Diving Championship.
Clark Thomas, an Olathe Northwest graduate and two-time honorable mention All-American as a sophomore, took his turn Friday during a team meeting.
“Being here the last four years has given me an opportunity to step into my own skin, so to speak,” Thomas said. “I was really able to challenge myself since I’ve been here. I’ve been able to develop this sort of outgoing, lead-by-example approach to how I trained, how I compete and my classwork.”
Thomas, who’s known for his unique perspective and gregarious personality, shared key elements of that approach with his Tigers teammates, urging them to choose happiness, conquer fear and embrace failure.
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“You want to talk about a kid who thinks a different way — yeah, absolutely, and I love him for it,” Missouri diving coach Jamie Sweeney said.
Thomas spoke about harnessing fear as an opportunity to be present in the moment, akin to a adrenaline-fueled superpower, and seeing failure as an opportunity for growth and improvement.
“He sees the bright side of anything,” Sweeney said. “He’s not blind to the fact that there are failures and he’s going to fail, but he’s not going to be afraid of failing. He keeps a positive-growth mind-set about it.
“He’s been crushed before. Elite-level athletes, that’s what happens. You win it big and you lose big, but he lives by this positive-growth mind-set that he’s either going to smoke it or he’s going to learn something valuable for the next time.”
Thomas wrapped up his remarks with a reminder that such principles apply equally to life in general, relationships and everyday decisions as much as competition.
Now, he hopes the Tigers put his message to good use during his final SEC Swimming and Diving Championship, which begin Tuesday and continue through Saturday at the Mizzou Aquatic Center in Columbia.
Thomas is down to the final three meets of his college career, including the NCAA Zone Diving Championships and NCAA Championships, but no tournament gets Thomas more pumped than the conference meet.
“Even more than NCAAs, the SEC championship feels way more electric and more exciting,” he said. “The building is packed, you’ve got the men’s and women’s teams bringing full squads. Everyone is there to bring their ‘A’ game. The spectators are very involved in the finals and stuff like that, so you really feel like you’re putting on a performance. It’s really something else.”
For Thomas, who also has qualified for and will compete in the U.S. Olympic Diving Trials beginning June 26 in Indianapolis, the chance to compete in the SEC Championship at his home pool only adds to the excitement.
“I’m so pumped,” he said. “It’s cool and I think it can give me an advantage, because I’ll come into this meet feeling a little more comfortable and a lot more excited to put on a show in front of my home crowd. It’s going to be sweet.”
Thomas, who competed in synchronized diving at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Diving Trials, is the reigning SEC runner-up on the 3-meter springboard.
He finished fifth on the 1-meter springboard and 12th on the platform at the conference championship last season and won the 1-meter title at the zone meet.
As a sophomore, Thomas finished ninth on the 3-meter springboard and 14th on the 1-meter springboard at the NCAA championships, earning All-American honorable mention honors.
He owns Missouri’s second-best all-time 3-meter springboard score (436.30), third-best 1-meter score (398.60) and sixth-best platform score (346.85).
Thomas would love to add a team record and tack another All-America honor or two onto his resume before things wind down.
“I’ve had flashes of bittersweet, but for the most part I’m just excited,” Thomas said. “I’ve got the best couple meets of my entire career ahead of me probably. Even if that doesn’t translate into scores, the experience is going to be awesome. But I don’t want to change my mind-set dramatically just because they’re my last meets. I want to go into it with the same frame of mind I have my entire career, that way I can get the most enjoyment out of it as possible.”
Thomas took the summer off to do the capstone for his geoscience major, a six-week field course mapping rock formations near Lander, Wyo., but he believes he’s peaking at the right time.
“It took up until pretty recently for me to regain all of my strength and confidence and flow back on the big dives that I’m doing,” Thomas said. “My difficulty is so hard on my 3-meter list, it was hard to get used to it again. But my drive this year and recently my quality of training has been better than it ever has. I think I’ve got a couple more heavy hitters left in me for the end of the year.”
“He’s coming to the end of it, but he’s well-trained and looks awesome right now,” Sweeney said. “He looks as good as he’s ever looked in his life at the sport of diving. We’ve built an amazing diver. Our next couple months are a celebration of his career.”
SEC SWIMMING & DIVING CHAMPIONSHIP
At the Mizzou Aquatic Center in Columbia
Swimming time trials, 10 a.m.
Women’s one-meter springboard preliminaries, 11 a.m.
Men’s three-meter springboard preliminaries, 2:15 p.m.
Women’s one-meter springboard final, 5:30 p.m.
Men’s and women’s 200 medley relay finals, 6:15 p.m.
Men’s three-meter springboard final, 6:30 p.m.
Men’s and women’s 800 freestyle relay finals, 7:15 p.m.
Men’s and women’s swimming preliminaries (500 freestyle relay, 200 individual medley, 50 freestyle), 10 a.m.
Women’s three-meter springboard preliminaries, 1 p.m.
Men’s and women’s swimming finals (500 freestyle relay, 200 individual medley, 50 freestyle, men’s one-meter diving, 200 freestyle relay), 6 p.m.
Men’s and women’s swimming preliminaries (400 individual medley, 100 butterfly, 200 freestyle), 10 a.m.
Women’s three-meter springboard preliminaries, 1 p.m.
Men’s and women’s swimming finals (400 individual medley, 100 butterfly, women’s three-meter springboard, 200 freestyle), 6 p.m.
Men’s and women’s swimming preliminaries (200 butterfly, 100 backstroke, 100 breaststroke), 10 a.m.
Men’s platform diving preliminaries, 1 p.m.
Men’s and women’s swimming finals (200 butterfly, 100 backstroke, 100 breaststroke, men’s platform diving, women’s 400 medley relay), 6 p.m.
Men’s and women’s swimming preliminaries (200 backstroke, 100 freestyle, 200 breaststroke), 10 a.m.
Women’s platform diving preliminaries, 1 p.m.
Men’s and women’s 1650 freestyle preliminaries, 4 p.m.
Men’s and women’s swimming finals (1650 freestyle, 200 backstroke, 100 freestyle, 200 breaststroke, women’s platform diving final, 400 freestyle relay), 6 p.m.