STRIVING FOR GREATNESS

Two years and many miles ago, the Fort Dodge swim program was in the midst of a long state meet drought.

The Dodgers hadn’t qualified a single event in five full seasons. They were on their fourth head coach during that stretch, and lopsided losses were a regular occurrence in the Central Iowa Metro League.

Gretta Leigh remembers when Michael Peterson, the team’s new leader in the fall of 2014, talked about changing both the expectations and the culture in the FDSH pool.

”(Coach Peterson) told us we would not only get back to state that year, but have multiple events there,” said Leigh, now the Dodgers’ senior co-captain. ”We kind of just laughed. Obviously we thought we had a shot (at possibly advancing), but deep down, it was hard to believe that it could ever become a reality.”

Leigh looks back on those days with a great sense of both pride and perspective. As one of the elder statesmen spearheading Fort Dodge’s resurgence, Leigh knows the success hasn’t come overnight – or without sacrifice.

”It’s really satisfying to know the hard work is paying off,” said Leigh, also an Honor Roll student who carries an overall grade point average of 3.83. ”To be able to point to the time, effort and miles we’ve put in and see the results – that makes the commitment well worth it.

”Practices can be really tough. It takes a certain kind of person to accept that responsibility and discipline, day after day. You have to be OK with not only being pushed, but pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone.”

Leigh is the school’s record-holder in the 50-yard freestyle, and a member of FDSH’s all-time best 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams. She participated in four of the Dodgers’ eight state events last season, and was on one of the three qualifiers as a sophomore in 2014.

Fort Dodge has been a force to be reckoned with this year. The Dodgers are a Top-10 program according to the latest state power rankings, and they defeated traditional power West Des Moines Valley for the first time ever last month on their way to a winning dual record for the first time in over a quarter-century.

According to Leigh, this is just the beginning.

”I remember when it was basically unheard of during my freshman year to regularly win duals or place in the top eight in an event (which constitutes all-state),” said Leigh, also a state tennis participant last spring. ”That’s the next step.

”We’ve really made huge strides as a program, and the best is still coming. There are so many girls involved in the ACAC (youth program) now, which is really great to see. They’re excited about swimming, and they’re good. They’ll continue to accomplish unprecedented things here (in the years to come). That (school) record board will keep changing.”