Gesture between rivals highlights WBL swim meet

Rival gives up medal

By Lance Mihm -

OTTAWA — Championship-caliber athletes often share a mutual respect and friendship with the biggest competitors.

That feeling of mutual respect and friendship reached its pinnacle during the Western Buckeye League swimming championships on Friday.

Ottawa-Glandorf swimmer Benjamin Sealts was nearly two seconds ahead of Wapakoneta’s Michael Johnston when he touched in the 200-yard individual medley, shattering the league record and securing a WBL championship that otherwise eluded him during the meet. In the midst of the excitement, Sealts learned later he was disqualified. The title then was passed to Johnston, who had also shattered the former WBL record.

However, what happened next was something both swimmers will remember for a long time. The event lit up social media. After the medal ceremony, Johnston approached Sealts and handed him his medal.

“You broke the record, it should be yours,” Johnston said.

Sealts at first did not take the medal. However, with his sister Megan (Sealts is deaf) interpreting, Sealts took it.

“I realized he really wanted me to have it,” Sealts said.

Sealts and Johnston shared a mutual respect for each other’s abilities. They often swim in the same events and even swam in the same heat during the 100-yard backstroke last year in the state championships.

“Michael and I have been swimming in most of the same events the last three years,” Sealts said. “It’s great because we are both serious swimmers and we’re very competitive in a positive way, we push each other to do our best.”

“Its fun to race against him,” Johnston said. “He is a great competitor. Through swimming we have developed a friendship and he always puts up a great race.”

Both racers said they were not expecting a run at a championship in the event. Both were also expecting strong competition from Grant Guggenbiller of Celina, who finished second.

Amy Sealts, Benjamin’s mother, said the gesture went way beyond racing.

“From a parent’s perspective, Michael’s gesture was about a lot more than a medal,” Amy Sealts said. “It was about respect, kindness and friendship, traits that go far beyond the pool.”

Sealts said he is very passionate about swimming. He swims year-round and has been swimming competitively for 11 years.

“I like it for fitness,” Sealts said. “I like racing and the friendships I’ve made with other swimmers all over Ohio.”

Sealts said as far as the officiating decision, “I know what I did in the pool. Unfortunately the official was two and a half lanes away from me and saw something different.”

Johnston said the technicality “would not have made a difference with how much he beat me by.”

Both took home plenty of hardware in league race. Johnston also placed first in the 200 medley relay and the 400 freestyle relay, as well as a second place finish in the 100 backstroke. Sealts placed second in the 200 medley relay and third in the 100 backstroke. Both have goals are to qualify again this year for OHSAA State Swimming Championships in February.

“And I hope Michael is swimming right beside me in Canton,” Sealts said.

As a junior, Johnston stands officially as the league record holder in the event. However, he said it gives him something to work for next year.

“I can work and make it really my record next time,” Johnston said. “It is a good goal to set.”

Rival gives up medal

By Lance Mihm

Reach Lance Mihm at 567-242-0409 or on Twitter @LanceMihm.

Reach Lance Mihm at 567-242-0409 or on Twitter @LanceMihm.