In the pool, whether it’s during practice or at a meet, Nicole addresses her father in a different manner. Coach.
For the past four years, Nicole and Marc have balanced the father-daughter relationship with the more businesslike coach-athlete relationship. As a coach with a kid on the team, Marc doesn’t want to show favoritism, but at the same time doesn’t want to ignore his daughter’s accomplishments.
“I’ve had the chance to coach both my kids in high school, and I think it’s not really worked to their advantage to a certain extent because I’m aware of that relationship, and you don’t want to show favoritism toward your kids,” Marc said. “What I failed to do was acknowledge the fact of how hard she’s worked in the last four years and even before that. In the pool, out of the pool, she’s shown great leadership potential and sometimes when I talk to the press and the media I’m reluctant to say that because you don’t want to mention that every time, but it’s in the forefront of your mind.”
Nicole makes it easy on her father. Her career accolades speak for themselves. Through her first three years in high school, Nicole has placed in the top eight in her two events — 100 butterfly and 200 individual medley — every year. At last year’s state meet, Nicole finished eighth in the 200 IM in 2 minutes, 28.08 seconds and sixth in the 100 butterfly in 1:04.42. Her time in the butterfly was less than three-tenths of a second off the St. Dom’s girls’ school record (1:04.16). Emily Lewandowski set the record back in 2007.
“My biggest goal for this year is getting the butterfly record,” Nicole said. “Being .2 seconds off, I really think I can do it. After that I really want to place top eight again. Placing top eight in all my events in high school would be an amazing feeling.”
Her six top-eight finishes at the state meet have all come under drastically different circumstances. She placed eighth in both the butterfly (1:08.01) and 200 IM (2:28.32) as an inexperienced freshman. She placed seventh in the butterfly (1:07.53) and eighth in the 200 IM (2:30.55) as an under-the-weather sophomore who could barely swim the length of the pool once without feeling short of breath. As a seasoned junior, Nicole posted her best times in both events.
“My freshman year I didn’t expect to place in the top eight at all,” Nicole said. “Coming in, I didn’t know what to expect and somehow I managed to place in the top eight. That was incredible. My mom was almost jumping out of her seat, literally. Sophomore year I was sick. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t warm up and somehow I also managed to place in the top eight, which I didn’t think I was going to be able to do.”
Nicole’s swimming career began well before high school. She was six when her parents approached her about the idea. During her brother Ryan’s swim meets, Nicole and Edward Little’s Olivia Paione, whose older sister swam with Nicole’s brother, would wander around the pool looking for something to do. The answer was to take up swimming.
At that point, neither Nicole nor her father thought Marc would be coaching her by the time she reached high school. But that’s what happened, and now Marc is in his seventh season at the helm with the Saints. Marc said that’s what happens when you have kids.
“I also didn’t see myself becoming a T-ball coach or a soccer coach,” Marc said. “As they grow up you follow them along the way and you volunteer. It’s been a great experience not just with Nicole but the kids that have picked up the sport. We have some kids who are picking up the varsity sport for the first time this year.”
Marc’s ascension to the head coaching position at St. Dom’s is due to his kids’ involvement in the sport. Marc was a basketball player at Lewiston High School and, outside of competing in a few triathlons, never swam competitively. He started as a timer and eventually volunteered to be an official at meets. He attended clinics to learn the different strokes. With that knowledge, he was asked to assist as a coach, and when there was a change in the coaching staff at St. Dom’s six years ago, Marc stepped in.
The lengths Marc’s gone to support Nicole hasn’t been lost on her.
“For him to step up and coach me, it’s a huge responsibility and he works in South Portland,” Nicole said. “He has to get here every day for practice. I couldn’t be more happy that I have a dad who’s willing to spend his time coaching me even though he doesn’t necessarily coach me during practice. He works with the newer kids mostly. It’s just a great experience having him as a coach.”
Nicole’s parents serve as her role models, as does her older brother. Ryan was a decorated swimmer during his four years at St. Dom’s. He sometimes stops by practice and lends a hand. While he’s not always there in person, his name is all over the St. Dom’s record board. He owns every individual swimming record on the boys’ side as well as in two relays.
“My brother is an amazing swimmer,” Nicole said. “He always worked hard in swimming. It did come naturally to him. It looked like he was going so slow and he would get a best time. I admire how hard he worked and how he perfected his strokes. Once he got one record he worked on getting the next one. Watching him swim is like an art. It’s beautiful. Me and my brother have a really good relationship and being able to swim with him was one of the most fun years of high school.”
Nicole and Ryan were on the same team during Nicole’s freshman season, when Ryan was a senior. Having the opportunity to coach both of his kids taught Marc a valuable lesson.
“I learned that they’re different,” Marc said. “Ryan has a slew of records on the record board, but again I think naturally it came a lot easier to him. He was a different kid. She’s had to work a lot harder. I don’t think anybody will deny that. Sometimes she’s in practice and you have a tendency not to look at her as much because you know she’s going to do what she has to do. I know she’s going to be in there day in and day out. She’s not only going to do it for herself, she’s definitely going to help her teammates out, whether it’s through a set or through a meet and cheering them on.”
When Nicole isn’t swimming with St. Dom’s, she’s up in Augusta swimming for the Kennebec Valley YMCA Stingrays for coach John Matzen. Nicole began swimming for the club team as a freshman after competing for Twin Cities Swim Club through middle school. She, along with Paione, helped set the team’s 15-and-over record in both the 200 medley relay (1:55.27) and 400 freestyle relay (3:55.05).
Balancing two swim teams with the rigors of school isn’t always easy, but Nicole finds a way.
“It’s quite hard,” Nicole said. “I’m taking three AP classes this year. I try to get my homework done as soon as possible. When practice here doesn’t start until four, I try to do my homework before then. When I have morning practice and after school practice, I get home around six and I start my homework and stay up until I get it done. I may not have the best time management because I’m so busy, but I manage to get things done.”
While her high school career will come to a close at the end of the season, Nicole’s days in the pool are far from over. She plans to swim collegiately and is considering offers from the University of New England and Wheaton College (Mass.) among others.
In the meantime, Nicole is going to value the time she has left to spend with her team.
“We’re all so close,” Nicole said. “I love our freshmen. They’re improving so much. It’s amazing watching my friends improve. We’re all so close and it’s a great team dynamic. I love my team. I love how it’s small and we all know each other really well.”
Marc isn’t sure how long he’ll continue coaching since this would be the last year he would be coaching one or both of his kids. Still, Marc is thankful for the opportunity to coach his kids. It’s been a great chance to watch them grow.
“Mentally, spiritually, I’ve seen Nicole grow into a young woman,” Marc said. “It’s not just in the pool, it’s out of the pool as well. As they start off as a six year old you wonder what their personality is going to be, how are they going to be as a person, not just a swimmer. She continues to amaze me in the things that she does.”