Olympic swimmers inspire students to chase own dreams

Michigan swimmers Connor Jaeger, Sean Ryan training to compete in Rio 2016

Students at Ridge Wood Elementary School in Northville are learning to be leaders at a very young age. 

The school is following "The Leader in Me" program, which encourages students to follow seven habits: be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put first things first, think win-win, seek first to understand and then be understood, synergize and sharpen the saw.

The school had two visitors to help teach the students what it means to set goals and be leaders, Connor Jaeger and Sean Ryan. The two are Olympic swimmers training to compete at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janerio in August.  

"Integrity is doing what's right, even when no one is watching you doing it," Jaeger said.

Jaeger and Ryan had specific lessons that they wanted to pass onto the students: "Work hard, respect the process, respect other people, and then help other people be successful," Jaeger said."We just think that those are kind of themes that have helped us, and  we think are important to just you as an individual."


Ryan said setting goals is important.

"Set small goals, small goals, small goals, and as you reach those goals, eventually you'll reach the big goal of going to the Olympics, graduating from the college that you want to go to, getting the job that you want," Ryan said. "That's how you go about it: Begin with the end in mind." 

Both Jaeger and Ryan train at the University of Michigan. They are working on their master's degrees, after earning undergraduate degrees in engineering the university.

Ryan has already qualified for the summer games and will compete in the open water 10K.  His race will be held in the ocean.

"It's really exciting because its pure racing. Times aren't involved and there's no lane ropes or anything," Ryan said. "So it's all strategy. You have guys that are swimming on top of you, you sometimes catch an elbow to the face or something like that."

Jaeger is training to compete in his second Olympic games. He competed in the 1500-meter freestyle in London in 2012 and placed sixth. He is the American record holder in the men's 1500-meter freestyle race and and last year's silver medalist in the world championships in the 1500 freestyle.

Jaeger also swims the 200-meter freestyle, the 400-meter freestyle and the 800-meter freestyle events.

"I've been training really hard, and I'm excited for trials," Jaeger said.

The Olympic trials for swimming are June 26 through July 3 in Omaha, Nebraska.

"Every summer event that I've gone to these past four years, it's just so great to be a part of a team and representing your country.  I mean, that's number one," Jaeger said.

Both swimmers are modest about their accomplishments and honest about the hours of work that go into achieving their goals.

"It's not like you're going home and you're going to take two hours out of your day and relax and watch your favorite TV show or something. You're going to attack the day  and use every available minute to get better at school and swimming. Those are the two things we are really working hard at," Ryan said.

Standing in front of the students was a full-circle moment for Jaeger.

"After the Sydney Olympics in 2000, a local Olympian, Tom Wilkins, came in and spoke to our school just like that," Jaeger said.

Jaeger said that at that time, he swam, but just during the summer.  

"I definitely didn't think about the Olympics at all, but it was just so real to, I saw him on TV, he won a medal and then he came in and got to speak at our school and it just became a really real thing," Jaeger said.

Students who listened to Jaeger and Ryan were inspired by the work the athletes are doing to achieve their goals.

"I learned that you can't just like go 'Eh I'll skip practice today and like,  mmm maybe tomorrow.' You have to go every single day," Samantha Bojrab, a fifth-grader, said.

"I didn't really think about how hard the Olympic people worked and now I realize that they work really, really hard to achieve their goals and to be part of the Olympics," said fifth-grade student Julia Drury.

Fifth-grade student Connor Vissotski heard something that really stuck with him.

"That they went to practice at 5:30 in the morning," Vissotski said. "Because practice makes perfect."

Jaeger and Ryan are two metro Detroit athletes whom Local 4 will be following leading into the Summer Olympics this August in Rio de Janeiro.