When Michael Phelps was dominating Olympic pools, he had a big fan watching his every move. Jalyn Mart watched and wondered, “Why can’t that be me?”
By looking at the standings each week at local swim meets, Mart may be well on his way. The 15-year-old swimmer is a speed demon in local pools, winning almost every competition he enters for McMinnville Swim Team.
Mart blew away the competition Thursday at a home meet against Tullahoma, winning the 50-meter freestyle, 50-meter butterfly and 100-meter individual medley. Even against packed pools, Mart only feels like he’s racing one person.
“I’m always competing against myself. I always want to top myself,” said Mart. “When I go in, all I’m thinking is ‘go faster than last time.’”
Racing against himself is usually his toughest challenge. Many times when Mart hits the wall, his competition is just crossing the halfway point. His speed has been noticed all around, where he routinely tops swimmers three years older than him.
“You can see the talent. He’s driven to succeed, both mentally and physically,” said McMinnville Swim Team coach Paige Northcutt, who swam in the 1988 Olympics in South Korea. “He’s an active all-around athlete. He plays basketball and baseball at Boyd. He’s competitive.”
Rae Jean Mart saw her son developing his swimming skills when their family moved to McMinnville from Orlando. Alone in their above-ground pool, Mart would swim for hours and hours in circles, developing a love for the water.
Those moments alone, just Jalyn and the water, shine through when he starts a competition.
“It’s all about him. He going out there individually and it’s on him,” said Rae Jean. “I think he enjoys being able to accomplish a goal – to swim better and be faster.”
Northcutt developed an immediate rapport with Mart when he joined the team four years ago. The speed was already there, and the bond has only grown stronger as Mart has developed into one of the top swimmers in the Midstate.
“When he met Paige, they had a connection,” said Rae Jean.
“I think he could get a college scholarship if we had an indoor pool,” said Northcutt, also a Florida native.
He may anyway.
Mart is scheduled to compete in several more meets this summer, many on major stages to get registered times for schools. Mart will have to extend the lengths in his favorite events, as many of the college swims go to 100 meters.
There’s little doubt Mart will do what he can to get there.
“He’s in the gym five days a week and he runs,” said Northcutt. “He watches tapes of Phelps and focuses on the little things. He will watch them over and over to improve his technique.”
Getting faster will be difficult, but try telling that to Mart . . . if you can catch him.