Jimmy Pope is not like any other fifth year student, of course he has a lot of experience, he knows what it takes to be the best athlete he can be, like any veteran should. But what separates him from other fifth year athletes is how he got here.
The native of Red Hook, N.Y. came to Oswego State in the fall of 2010. He performed well for the men’s swimming and diving team throughout his freshman year and it showed at the end of the season when he finished 10th at the SUNYAC Championships in the 200 meter butterfly.
After a great first year, many would expect him to be a swimmer to look out for in the following season. But, before his freshman year ended in April, Pope decided to make a decision that would change his life.
Pope decided to join the military reserves. It was something that he debated before he came to swim on the shores of Lake Ontario.
“It’s something I’ve always been interested in doing and I came in under recruitship and I loved this school, so I decided to come here instead of join the military,” Pope said.
He did the research, he talked to recruiters, and he was finally convinced to join the reserves. At first, he thought it would just mean having to move away from home for a summer but he soon realized it would be a large commitment of his time.
“It would have ran past the end of summer and conflicted with swimming so I decided to push it back a little ways and just take that year off of school,” Pope said.
Right after making the decision he then went and told his head coach Mike Holman, who was of course sad to see him go, but also not surprised.
“We were just supportive, I honestly didn’t think he’d come back,” Holman said.
Pope made a promise to Holman that he would come back and he ended up keeping that promise, but not before having to do training for much of the year he had taken off from school.
While other students were moving back into their dorms in Aug. 2011. Pope went down to Fort Jackson in South Carolina for basic training. He was there until the end of October where he then went to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas for combat medic training. He was there until March 2012.
Pope explained how it felt to be at training while his team was at the SUNYAC Championships in February.
“I remember sitting up in my bunk with my cell phone on the Internet trying to get updates,” Pope said. “It was tough to be away from it.”
After finishing his training, Pope came back to Oswego State to visit the team and show he was ready to be back swimming in the fall. This motivation came from not being able to swim as much as he was used to during training.
“When I went to basic training there was no swimming involved at all, so that’s the longest I’ve been out of a pool and I felt like a fish out of water.”
Pope came back for his sophomore year in the 2012-2013 season. He ended up finishing 17th at the SUNYAC Championships in the 200 meter butterfly.
After coming back from an experience like military training, many people would change how they act. Holman saw the same man that had left for the reserves.
“It definitely changed him a little bit, but not that much, he was always like that in character,” Holman said.
Going into Pope’s junior year the team and the swimmer improved tremendously going from winning two meets to seven, while also seeing Pope do well at the SUNYAC Championships, finishing at 11th place in the 200 meter butterfly.
Last year was also the first year for junior transfer, Aidan Meehan. He shared how important Pope is to this team.
“He is the person to talk to whenever, if you’re tired, feeling down. He knows what it’s like to be tired,” Meehan said. “He tells me when to go, how to do it, push hard, don’t be negative. It’s good to have a person behind you saying all those things.”
That positive mentality led Holman to name Pope as one of the captains for this season.
“I always thought he’d be a captain at his senior year. One, for just what he’s done, and coming back and finishing this up,” Holman said. “He’s got a connection that goes deeper than anyone else on this team because of how long he’s been here.”
Pope expressed his gratitude for being named as one of the captains.
“It means a lot that he trusted me with being a captain because there are definitely some other people who could have done an excellent job at it as well,” Pope said.
Along with being captain he also still deals with the responsibility he has under contract with the reserves. Although done with training, he still has to go away a weekend a month as part of his contract with the reserves, something that he has been doing since he finished training.
“I have to go down to Utica to drill one weekend a month, which does occasionally interfere with meets,” Pope said. “I try to work with my unit and coach so that I don’t miss anything.”
It is this kind of commitment that shows the younger simmers on the team what it is like to put it all on line for the team.
“I think it sets a great example, especially for the newcomers,” Meehan said. “He shows commitment to the team, seeing him working so hard. He tries really hard no matter what the circumstance.”
Though missing some events, he also gives advice to his teammates as well as getting some of them involved in a student association group.
“He misses some stuff here and there, but I think we have a handful of other kids that have the same interests. He’s been able to give them advice and answer questions,” Holman said. “He’s been involved in SAVAC, where we have a lot of other kids get involved in that as well.”
SAVAC, the Student Association Volunteer Ambulance Corps of Oswego, Inc., is something that connects deep within Pope as he debates what he wants to do when he graduates this spring.
“This year I plan to talk to active duty recruiters and weigh my options. I’m also thinking about going into paramedic school, flip flopping ideas right now,” Pope said. “I would like to go into active duty but that question is, ‘Do I do it immediately after school or wait a little while?’”
While he still has time to think it over, there are still some things that Pope is looking to achieve in the pool for himself and the team.
“We’ve got a record on the board that’s been standing there for a pretty long time. The 200 yard butterfly record. It’s a stretch but it’s a personal goal of mine to beat that record since freshman year,” Pope said. “As far as the team goes, I’m hopefully looking to move up a spot at SUNYACs or at least hold our ground from last year.”
Oswego State’s 200 yard butterfly record is 1:55.18 set by Pete Rosenkrantz in 1977. Pope set a time of 2:01.38 in last year’s SUNYAC Championships, so it will be interesting to see if he can achieve the goal. While the team is looking to improve from last year, they have already lost their first two meets against tough opponents Rochester Institute of Technology and SUNY Oneonta. The team will be having their first home meet of the season on Saturday against Wells College.
One thing is for sure there will not be many like Jimmy Pope that come through this program again. All coach Holman can hope for is that the younger swimmers take what they have learned from the fifth-year senior so that the team will be stronger in years to come.