LINCOLN — When Jacob Molacek was younger, he struggled with asthma and allergies and also would get really bad chest colds.
It’s hard to tell nowadays.
Molacek — in just four weeks of competition for Omaha Creighton Prep — has earned spots on The World-Herald’s all-time charts in seven of the state’s eight individual swimming events. In three of those events — the 50- and 200-yard freestyles and the 100 backstroke — Molacek has the fastest time in state history.
This Friday and Saturday, the junior will swim the 200 free and 100 back at the 76th boys state meet at the Devaney Center. Molacek also will swim a leg on Prep’s 200 medley and 200 free relay teams this weekend as the Junior Jays pursue their seventh consecutive and 15th overall team title.
Tom Beck, Molacek’s club and high school coach, said his pupil’s potential is unlimited because he has continued to work on every stroke.
“He’s always had that attitude of striving for excellence, always looking to improve and trying to make each practice count,” Beck said. “The way he works to make each practice count is off the charts, in my opinion.”
Molacek has certainly worked hard to get where he is.
He grew up in Lincoln, and his parents, Shane and Norma, had him take classes at home because of his illnesses. His mother put her career aside to see to Jacob’s education.
“I wasn’t healthy when I was younger, so the doctor recommended I be taken out of that environment for a while,” Molacek said. “So mom stopped her career in nursing to take care of me, and eventually it just ended up being easier to keep going that way.”
But thanks to a little help from a friend, Molacek eventually found both a club and a school where he felt comfortable.
Ask the swimming phenom how he chose last spring to attend Creighton Prep this school year, and the answer is refreshingly honest.
“My friend Chris Chavez,” Molacek said. “A few years ago he wanted me to come to one of his club practices in Omaha and just see if I liked it. So I did, and I just fell in love with GOAL and what the team was all about.”
GOAL is the Greater Omaha Aquatics Leopardsharks — founder and head coach Beck was looking for a way to make the acronym GOAL, so he needed an amphibious critter that started with an L. Chavez had been a member of the team for years.
So Molacek began dropping subtle hints to his parents, gems like, “If there’s any way you could make this work, that would be great.”
They did, and things have turned out better than great.
Last summer, Molacek barely missed qualifying for the Olympic Trials in two events, but he continued to improve throughout the summer under Beck’s tutelage, finishing fourth at the U.S. Junior Nationals in the 100-meter breaststroke with a time better than the Trials qualifying standard. Then, after sitting out 90 days this high school year because of the NSAA transfer rule, Molacek has been tearing up the charts.
Beck has been plenty impressed.
“He really has improved his technique on all of his strokes,” Beck said. “His best event is probably going to be the IM. I think that’s where his future is.”
Ask Molacek if he’s interested in training for the 400 IM or if he’d rather stick with the 200 IM in college and club seasons, and he’s quick to favor the 200.
Swim fans in Nebraska have learned the past two Olympiads that the 400 IM is the most grueling of all swimming events. With the Olympic Trials in Omaha in 2008 and 2012, fans heard two of the all-time best in that event — Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte — talk about the commitment needed for success.
For now, Molacek is content to work on the individual events as colleges from Indiana to Auburn to Stanford have started to focus their recruiting efforts on having Molacek join their teams beginning in the fall of 2014. If the 400 IM eventually is on his card, so be it.
“I think anything is possible when I put my mind to something,” Molacek said. “It’s a very grueling event to train for, but colleges may turn me into a 400 IMer.”
It wouldn’t be the first time Molacek has accomplished something that seemed too tough to do.
“When I talked to my parents about going to Prep, I told them we’ve already made something that shouldn’t work work,” Molacek said. “It would be awesome if that could happen again.”
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