Cleveland State swimmer trains for Olympics at Atwood Lake

June 8, 2011

If Cleveland State University long-distance swimmer Mark deSwardt wins a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, a small part of his success will have come from the waters of Atwood Lake.


The CSU swimmer, who hails from South Africa and is training to compete for his homeland in the marathon swimming event (10 kilometers) in the open waters of London’s historical Hyde Park during next year’s Olympic Games, recently traveled south from Cleveland for a training swim in Atwood Lake. CSU coach Wally Morton said that until water temperatures warm a bit more in Lake Erie, deSwardt occasionally will utilize Atwood Lake as part of his preparations.


“He’s just a phenomenal athlete and has never lost a race for us at CSU,” said Morton, a Dover native who grew up visiting Atwood Lake and still travels to the lake to visit with friends and relax. “The longer (deSwardt) goes, the better he gets and that’s why this event is something he has focused in on for an opportunity to possibly earn a spot on the South African Olympic team.”


The 21-year-old deSwardt knows quite a bit about success when it comes to competitive swimming.


A senior this fall at CSU, deSwardt was named the Horizon League Swimmer of the Year earlier this year after going undefeated in individual races against conference opponents. He also won the 500 free, 1,000 free and 1,650 free events at the Horizon League Championships. He claimed the top times in the league in those three events as well as the 400 IM.


deSwardt, who began swimming in open-water events at age 8, makes no secret of his Olympic dream.


“I think for every athlete, it is your dream to someday be able to compete and win a medal in the Olympics,” he said just before heading out for his training swim at Atwood Lake. “It’s always been my goal to prepare for a place in the Olympics.”


The 10-kilometer (about 6 miles) swim takes about two hours for deSwardt to complete. Preparing for those two hours of competitive swimming, however, is a much more time-consuming effort. Besides training swims, deSwardt said he is in the water for a total of 65,000 meters each week and follows a scheduled regimen of lifting weights and running.


“It’s pretty much all I do right now,” he said. “I am fortunate to have such dedicated coaches who are helping me.”


Morton became interested in swimming under the leadership of Tom Patton at the Tuscarawas County YMCA at Dover, has served as the men’s head swimming and diving coach for 30 seasons at CSU and added the women’s team to his duties several years ago. His teams have finished with records above .500 for a whopping 28 seasons and he is the all-time leader in wins at the school. He has been on the coaching staff at CSU since 1974 and has established a reputation around the world for his coaching success.


“I owe everything to this community in Tuscarawas County and Atwood Lake, including the great Tom Patton,” Morton said. “The best thing about Atwood Lake is the people.”


As Morton was helping deSwardt design his training schedule, he said it was an easy decision to include Atwood Lake in the planning.


“It’s so early in the summer that Lake Erie is still pretty cold to be in for swimming,” Morton said. “And I knew that Atwood would be warmer. Plus, I know so many people here and felt we could work it out.”


The CSU coach obtained a special permit from the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) allowing deSwardt to swim in the lake. Then, accompanied by Morton, CSU assistant coaches Andrew Hancock and April Woo, and Atwood Lake resident Trevor Buehler (who lends his pontoon boat and home to the group for training sessions and is a lifelong friend of Morton and former All-America swimmer at Wittenberg University), deSwardt simply dives in as he has so many times before.


Only now, the goal is to finish with a spot on the top step of the awards stand with gold hanging from his neck next summer.


“It will be wonderful to make the team and get to compete,” deSwardt said. “But the only thing that matters right now is staying on my training schedule and getting better.”


The MWCD, a political subdivision of the state, was organized in 1933 to develop and implement a plan to reduce flooding and conserve water for beneficial public uses in the Muskingum River Watershed, the largest wholly contained watershed in Ohio. Since their construction, the 16 reservoirs and dams in the MWCD region have been credited for saving nearly $10 billion worth of potential property damage from flooding, according to the federal government. A significant portion of the reservoirs are managed by the MWCD and the dams are managed for flood-risk management by the federal U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).


For more information about the MWCD, visit and on Facebook.


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