All-City boys swimming: Norman North’s Daniel Wilson has come a long way since his freshman season
NORMAN — Daniel Wilson started to panic.
The Norman North swimmer lost his goggles moments into his first race at the 2017 state meet in Jenks. Wilson, a freshman at the time, didn’t know what to do.
He eventually dog paddled his way to a disappointing finish in the 200-yard freestyle preliminary race. He had another frustrating performance in the 500 freestyle, failing to qualify for the finals in both events.
Wilson thought about that day when he arrived at the same venue in February for the Class 6A state meet.
He showed everyone at Jenks Trojan Aquatic Center how far he has come since his freshman season, finishing his high school career with one of the most dominant performances in state history.
The Missouri signee broke state records in two individual events, completing the 100 freestyle in 43.85 seconds and the 200 freestyle in 1:37.24. He also helped Norman North win the 200 freestyle relay and 400 freestyle relay. The Timberwolves’ time of 1:24.52 in the 200 freestyle broke a state record.
Wilson is The Oklahoman’s All-City Boys Swimmer of the Year.
“All that time and effort, it really paid off,” he said.
Wilson is relatively new to competitive swimming.
He was raised in Russia. Wilson arrived in Norman as he entered the eighth grade after his father, a California native, retired from his job in the oil business. Wilson’s Russian mother is a student at OU.
Wilson was diagnosed with scoliosis when he was younger. He began swimming after his doctor suggested it could help treat the condition. Wilson didn’t swim competitively until transitioning from Longfellow Middle School to Norman North.
He didn’t have lofty expectations for his swimming career.
“I couldn’t really find any other sport to do, and swimming was the closest to me out of all of them,” he said. “It was the most familiar one. So, I just decided, why not swimming?”
Wilson has been constantly learning since he arrived in the country. He learned how to speak English in elementary school but admits he still gets confused and isn’t completely comfortable speaking the language.
He had a difficult time adjusting to the new culture but developed close friendships with his fellow Norman North swimmers, particularly junior Aiden Hayes, an N.C. State commit, and senior Jonathan Tang, a Dartmouth signee.
Wilson, Hayes and Tang train together. Their training sessions helped Wilson develop into an elite swimmer.
“Daniel is where he is because he’s with those other two boys,” Norman Public Schools coach Kent Nicholson said. “At the same time, he caused them to have to step up their game because he got so fast, so quick, trying to keep up. It’s been a back and forth sort of thing. It’s not competitive amongst them more than it is a partnership.”
Wilson said Hayes and Tang pushed him to become a better swimmer. However, Wilson appreciates how his friends helped him away from the sport as much as anything.
“When I joined, I was more insecure and shy,” Wilson said. “Obviously, it was a really different culture, really different environment for me when I came to live here, and they helped me get through that. They really helped me grow up. … I can’t be more thankful for having an opportunity to be friends with them because I don’t think I would be in the place I am right now without them.”
Wilson has made tremendous strides since his freshman year.
With his high school career finished, Wilson has learned to appreciate how he bounced back from his state meet debut. He views it as a key turning point in his career.
“It was really an important lesson,” he said. “I used to think of it as the most horrible thing that ever happened to me in swimming, but I think it happened for a reason.
“In a way, I’m thankful for it.”