Athlete Spotlight: Blake Nelson

BISMARCK – One of the mantra’s of the Bismarck High boys’ swimming and diving program is: “Good swimmers swim everything.”

Junior Blake Nelson has certainly taken that to heart. The standout has reached state-qualifying standards in eight individual events, including the 100-yard backstroke in which he is the defending champion and holds the fastest time (:52.90) heading into this week’s state championships. He is also ranked second in the 200-yard freestyle (1:45.18). Those are the two individual events Nelson will compete in at state along with two relays.

“One thing that has made Blake a standout-swimmer is his effort and drive to improve all aspects of the sport,’’ said BHS coach Cale Schafer. “Although there are events that Blake is strong in than others, he has no glaring weaknesses in events and is very well-rounded.”

And being a well-rounded swimmer doesn’t happen by accident. It takes many hours of practice, discipline and focus.

“I think what many don’t realize is how much endurance and strength is needed and you have to really work on your technique,’’ Nelson said.

Blake began swimming in the Bismarck youth club program, Aquastorm, when he was six years-old.

I always looked forward to the meets,’’ he recalls. “I always felt comfortable in the pool and competing.”

He has participated in high school events since seventh grade year and it didn’t take long to showcase his potential and talent. He qualified for state in the 200-yard freestyle while in middle school.  Big changes came between his eighth grade and freshman years where a growth spurt added significant muscle onto his frame. It was during that time where he put more emphasis learning different swim strokes so he could compete in a number of events.

“As Blake started seeing success at the high school level, it drove him to work even harder,’’ Schafer said. “He leads the pack every day in practice with his effort and drive to be a little better every day. He also worked hard on his technique with camps in the offseason and putting on more muscle in the weight room.”

While the backstroke and freestyle events is where he’s had the most success, he also enjoys swimming the individual medley. “It’s the event to show your all-around skills,’’ the all-state swimmer said.

A typical week during the high school season for Blake and his teammates includes four morning workouts split between pool sessions and weight training. Add that to 90-minute afterschool practices and its quite a commitment. 

The sport, in some regards, is similar to distance running. The only way to become better is to swim a lot of yards and be willing to push yourself during the workouts to make the necessary progress.

Bismarck High’s program has seen a resurgence in recent years, including a runner-up finish at the ND state meet a season ago. The Demons have been consistently finishing in the top three of their meets and more swimmers are reaching new heights of success. And that is a credit to Nelson and his teammates willingness to buy into the program’s goals and objectives.

Schafer said challenging the swimmers to work hard and get the most of out of their potential was one of the focal points of the coaching staff. In addition to improving technique and devoting attention to all the things little things that factor into a good performance.

Nelson earned his first state championship last season in the 100-yard backstroke and defending that title is among his pursuits. He is also gunning for the state record in the event before is high school career is finished.

“Blake has had lofty goals for several years and has put in the hard work to make those goals a reality,’’ Schafer said. “He is a very passionate competitor and he uses that passion and those goals to motivate himself to work that much harder every day in practice.”

And that dedication has rubbed off on his teammates. Schafer said, as other athletes see the work that Blake puts in, they are much more motivated to challenge themselves to improve. “We have a lot of friendly competition on our team which is a big driving factor of the success that these young me have realized over the past couple seasons,’’ Schafer said.

Nelson still has another high school season ahead to pursue his goals. Beyond that, hopefully more swimming.

“If the opportunity comes (to win swim in college), I’ll definitely look into it,’’ he said.

For now, his focus is performing well and helping the Demon program continue its rise.