Swimmer Trades High School Social Life for Olympic Ambitions

PHOTO: Forrest Davis, who made Olympic Trials this year, gives up vacations, school trips and even weekend fun to one day go for gold.PlayCourtesy of Lindi Davis
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Forrest Davis -- a teenager with Olympic dreams -- gets up at 6:15 every morning except Sunday and hits the pool. By 8:45, he's headed off to class and by 4:30 in the afternoon, he's back in the water again. Then there's dinner, homework and bed.

The 17-year-old rising senior from Peddie School has no time for musical or drama groups, the robotics team or just plain hanging out with friends.

Davis has only two weeks off during the summer and Christmas Day. He has swim meets on Thanksgiving Day.

As for having a girlfriend? He's had two since enrolling as a freshman at the top-ranked boarding school, but because of his grueling training schedule, they didn't work out.

"It's pretty difficult to maintain a relationship with a person who isn't a swimmer," he said. "You have such a huge time commitment and you are so fully focused on one goal … It's hard for people to understand."

As a 17-year-old, he was the youngest at the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., this summer. Forrest didn't expect to make it, but he has his eyes on three more --- 2016, 2020 and 2024.

It takes 10,000 hours of "dedicated training" for the average athlete to make it to the Olympic level, according to studies by the Youth Sports Institute at Michigan State University.

That pretty much precludes a normal teenage life, filled with proms, social hijinx and steady relationships.

"On the weekends, I can't really go out with friends because I am so tired," said Forrest. "My non-swimmer friends have all these stories, and I miss it all. I am kind of a floater -- I show up some one day and then I don't see them for a week."

"I would love to just be normal for a bit and be allowed to go to school and play Frisbee with my friends, but it's hard to imagine what I've never really had," he said.

Forrest grew up in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he joined a recreational team at age 7 when he didn't even know how to swim.

"They taught him four strokes and from the get-go he was winning everything," said his mother, Lindi Davis, 40. "He was tall and lean at 11, and started to dominate every event he won."

By 9, Forrest knew he wanted to go to the Olympics, according to Davis. He stayed in small local programs at first, but started begging his parents to let him go further.

At 12, he joined the USA team and began to travel.

"He was very driven," said Davis. "He started talking about going to boarding school in the eighth grade. But we were in no hurry to send him."

Davis eventually gave in when they were assured that the school had a strong academic program, so Forrest would have "balance" and the opportunity to go to college.

A family friend and former swimmer recommended Peddie, a co-educational high school in New Jersey, for its wide curriculum and a strong aquatics program.

For the last 20 years, past and present swimmers from the school have competed in every one of the Olympic Games. Two won gold medals for the United States: Nelson Diebel in the 100-meter breaststroke and the 400-meter medley relay in Barcelona 1992; and Barbara Bedford in the 100-meter backstroke in Sydney 2000.

Peddie alumnus Roy Allan Burch competed in Bejjing in 2008 and is in London 2012 swimming in the 50-meter freestyle for Bermuda. He did not medal.

Forrest's parents have made the ultimate sacrifice so that their son could pursue his Olympic dreams. The family moved from their home in Sun Valley, Idaho, a year after he was accepted to Peddie.

Davis applied to teach math and when she got the job, she moved East with Forrest's sister, also a swimmer, in 2010. Her husband Daniel stayed behind.

But in 2011, the cross-country visits became too difficult, and Daniel Davis quit a successful career in finance and moved to New Jersey. Now 48, he also teaches math at nearby Ocean County Community College.

"It was a scary step," said Lindi Davis of their decision to support their son's Olympic ambitions.

Olympic Sacrifice 'Will Be Worth It'

Forrest, who has competed three years running in Junior Nationals, appreciates the sacrifices his family has made.

"Sometimes if I don't swim very fast, I feel guilty that I brought them here," Forrest said. "It's added pressure that fuels me and cripples me at the same time … I don't want to let them down."

But his mother said the family, now ensconced in faculty housing on the Hightstown campus and part of a warm community, is happy on the East Coast. And she said Forrest's drive comes from within.

"There is something about swimmers that just have this internal drive to meet every goal with total perfection," she said. "You can kind of see it in his eyes."

Today, the 17-year-old is spending four weeks in an academic science program in Durham, N.C., but when he isn't in the lab, he is training with Duke Aquatics for the Junior Nationals, which begin Aug. 13.

His time for the 200-meter breast stroke is 2.19.47.

Forrest will begin looking at colleges this fall, where he wants to study theoretical physics -- and continue training with a school that can help push him harder.

And what if he never gets to the Olympics, will he regret the ordinary teen years he missed?

"Swimming has taught me a lot about myself and that is valuable," said Forrest. "I have learned to balance time and strive for something I am passionate about. In the end, when I stop, it will all be worth it to know I gave everything I could --- that I still tried."