Eli Skaggs was the sole representative for Galion at this year’s state championship in Canton last week.
During the state preliminaries, he finished 17th in the 100-yard butterfly in 53.89 and 18th in the 50 freestyle 22.21. Only top 16 move on to the finals.
“I was obviously disappointed that I didn’t make it,” Skaggs said.
Though he came up short, it was the junior swimmer’s first stroke in a different world.
Skaggs is a Galion native but is home schooled. He was four when his family moved to the area from Florida. During his childhood, he would swim recreational before his family encouraged him to do so competitively.
“I have back deformities,” he said. “Swimming is one of the few sports that I can actually do because it has no contact.”
Skaggs was born with a mild Spina bifida and deals with constant back pain.
“It gets in the way of everything,” he said.
Skaggs has been swimming for 13 years, but started competing at 12 when he joined the USA Swimming circuit.
Skaggs would travel as far as Mansfield to swim with USA, which eventually shut down. His parents would then travel an hour to Columbus for him to swim.
“And then I realized then that’s not good enough because I can’t get there every day for that,” he said.
Skaggs is still home-schooled through Connections Academy but can now participate in official high school athletics. He joined the Galion Tigers coached by Ted Temple, which won the Mid-Ohio Athletic Championship on Jan. 30.
Skaggs said one of the big difference between the two experiences is the social life.
“Of course, I made good friends in the USA,” Skaggs said. “I just feel like high school has opened more opportunities for me… for the social aspect of it.”
He said he especially appreciated when a majority of his Galion teammates came to Canton to support him.
Skaggs enjoyed the season from a team perspective, although frustrated with his times.
“I’m happy contribute to my team,” he said. “The times and stuff — I’m disappointed… But these bigger meets I get frustrated because I want to be the fastest.”
Unlike USA where Skaggs focuses on his own personal improvement, he is more competitive when swimming against other high school athletes.
Skaggs said the state meet was similar to other events he competed through USA Swimming.
“The spotlight was really on me,” he said.
Reach Klein at 419-468-1117, ext. 2048 or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.