by Chuck Signs
Teammates and friends Misho Mahrous and Jackson Breen are taking separate paths in pursuit of their goals as swimmers.
Mahrous is excited about improving his skills and building on his accomplishments in his final two years on the Ames High School swim team. He is already one of the fastest swimmers in the state.
2016 Gilbert High School graduate Breen swam at Ames High School. He’s taking his talents to the University of Denver where he will swim for the Pioneers. The two also are members of the Ames Cyclones Aquatic Club, coached by former Ames High swimmer Mike Peterson, that competes in the summer throughout the country.
Misho, 16, a high school junior, is experienced at meeting challenges. Just two years ago he and his family left their native Egypt for a new life in the United States, which meant adjusting to a new country, a new school and new friends.
“I feel that I’m pretty fast in the butterfly. Also, you need a lot of technique, which is challenging, and I like challenges.” -Misho Mahrous
The family settled in Ames where Misho was quickly embraced by the Little Cyclones swim team. Growing up in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, he swam and played soccer. He learned English and French in his Catholic school.
“I had really fun times there learning new things. There were really good teachers and it was really fun there,” said Misho, the son of Karam and Lucie Mahrous.
At age 14, Misho faced adjusting to a new culture.
“It was so weird. At the beginning it was weird moving to another country because it was a whole new experience to me. Everything was different. People were different. School was different,” Misho said.
“What made a difference to me was the high school team. I had some friends. And my church friends have helped me a lot. It’s been really overwhelming so far.”
Misho swam for two clubs in Egypt. “Back in 2012 is when I started getting a lot better.”
Being part of a close knit team has helped him make the transition to a new environment.
“What is really fun is working hard with my teammates every day. Waking up at five in the morning, I go to the workout then go to school then go back to a workout. That’s really nice to have here because we go through the same process together.”
He’s made rapid progress, almost qualifying for state in 2016. He placed 25th in the 2016 district meet, but the cutoff for qualifying is 24.
Jackson Breen grew up in Gilbert, just north of Ames and is the son of Paul and Amy Breen.
“I started swimming at the country club when I was three of four-years old with Dan Flannery who is the high school coach. I hadn’t swam since fifth or sixth grade.
“I think about swimming all the time…I’m extremely blessed to have another four years swimming in college.” – Jackson Breen
“I tried it out my freshman year. I wasn’t very good, but I had some fun and I had a good district meet, so I was happy with that. I came back my sophomore year and qualified for state and I was really happy to be at that meet.. I didn’t expect that at all. I was pretty humbled to be there.”
He swam the 100-yard butterfly, which is his specialty. “That had always been my event since I was a little kid.”
Jackson is the personification of the all around athlete: Little League baseball, soccer, track, basketball, wrestling and football.
He continued in football in high school. “Up until my junior year I was really into football. It was, and still is, one of my favorite sports.” He wasn’t the biggest player on the field, but made All-District safety at Gilbert.
Then he “fell in love” with swimming again. “It’s fun. There is a lot of hard work, but it pays off. What you put in it is exactly what you’re going to get out of it. If you give everything you have you can see some good results,” he said.
A requirement that swimming and football have in common is “mental toughness,” he said.
“There are a lot of workouts in swimming that you know are going to hurt a lot. You have to mentally psyche yourself up for it. It’s the same for football. Football gave me a lot of lessons on working hard, dealing with pain and pushing though it.”
Swimming, though, now takes priority in his athletic life. He gives much of the credit to high school coach Flannery.
“I love my coach Dan. He’s one of the greatest people. “I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t want to swim for Dan Flannery. He’s a great guy. When I qualified for state I realized that I might have some potential and maybe Dan’s not lying to me.
“I love it so much and I want to be the best I can be. It gives me a sense of gratification for hard work and it teaches me how to man up and do something that’s hard. I don’t know where I would be without it. I’m very glad that I chose swimming. I have had an amazing past year and a half.”
Jackson compiled many accomplishments in high school. He placed fourth in the 100-meter butterfly at the 2016 state championship and was selected for All-State. He was district champion in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke.
Physical training in high school included heavy doses of weightlifting and a variety of other exercises. “It’s overall fitness. Running, getting that endurance. We do so many different things to try to be the most well rounded athlete that we can. And that really shows in the pool.
“It connects your upper body with your lower body. Kicking is an overlooked part of swimming. You have to have a strong core to connect your kick to your stroke. We talk a lot about body positioning in the water. You want to be as streamlined as you can going through the water, so having a strong core lifts your hips up and your feet up.”
Jackson was in Omaha for the 2016 Olympic trials and watched some of the best, including five-time Olympian Michael Phelps, who exemplifies what Jackson and all swimmers strive to achieve.
“His butterfly stroke is a work of art. It’s beautiful. It’s as close as anyone I have seen in to hydroplaning over the water. His body never sinks below an inch or two below the water. His arms and chin are right on the surface. There’s a reason he’s been the best in the world for 16 years in the butterfly. I’ve never seen anyone swim it as beautifully as Michael Phelps. That’s everyone’s goal, I think.”
Misho has an agenda as he starts his junior season. “My next few goals are to definitely make it to the podium next year and to get better and better every year, especially because I’ve seen Jackson. He wasn’t that fast and then he got a lot faster and made it to state. He was on the podium. He really motivated me this season, so I’m really, really looking forward to getting better and better.
“We’ll see how it’s going to work. I only have two more years, so I’ve got to make them count.”
Misho chose to dedicate himself to swimming, although he enjoys other sports.
“My coaches told me that some other sports wouldn’t work well with swimming because in sports like soccer you sometimes only use one leg and that really affects swimming. In swimming we do a lot of kicking and soccer makes one leg stronger than the other. I had to focus on one sport.”
Misho also specializes in the butterfly stroke, his favorite.
“I feel that I’m pretty fast in butterfly. Also, you need a lot of technique, which is challenging, and I like challenges.”
He agrees that building the kind of strength that’s necessary for swimming requires spending plenty of time in the weight room as part of a comprehensive training program.
“Weightlifting helps a lot. Weightlifting has a big role because you have to be strong to swim fast and the only way to get strong is going to the weight room. I focus on it a lot.
“Weightlifting is a challenge and, like I said, I like challenges. Weightlifting is really fun to do. I never miss a session of weightlifting.”
Whether he continues competing after high school depends on his performance the next two seasons and his academic goals, Misho said.
“What I get out of swimming so far is good relationships with people because you get to know swimmers from other clubs and other coaches as well. Also, it’s really healthy because it works all of the muscles in the body.”
Jackson eagerly anticipates improving his skills at the collegiate level.
“I think about swimming all the time. I’m extremely blessed to have another four years swimming in college. I’m excited about that.”