As Tate Jackson walked into the Carver Swim Center on Monday morning, the memories came rushing back.
More than seven years removed from his one season of swimming for Muscatine, he remembers the walk down the back wall to the starting blocks for his race. He remembers his mother disqualifying him in a race for doing an illegal turn in the backstroke. He remembers the challenging sets coach Judd Anderson would put the team through, particularly during winter break.
In 2012, swimming was just evolving into a passion for Jackson. It has become his livelihood now.
The 22-year-old Jackson has turned professional after finishing a collegiate career at the University of Texas last winter where he was an 11-time All-American. He was part of two national championship winning relays and is the Big 12 Conference’s record holder in the 100 freestyle (41.06/short course).
It was Jackson’s first trip to Muscatine in more than five years. He was back in southeast Iowa celebrating his grandmother’s 85th birthday.
Jackson talked with, posed for photographs and even raced several members of the Muscatine girls swim team Monday. Several club swimmers also attended.
“I thought it would be fun for the kids, especially this age group, to meet someone that has done it and been there,” Anderson said. “In communities such as ours, small-town Iowa, we’re not in the typical loop of big-time swimming athletics.”
Jackson, ranked fifth in the country and 10th in the world in the 100 freestyle, has lofty goals.
He is working toward a spot on the 2020 United States Olympic Team.
“When you get in this pool, that’s the dream for everyone,” Jackson said. “I really want to make the team. I know what I got to do to make that happen. Essentially, it is how I execute.
“It would mean a lot to me, but I also think it would mean a lot to Judd, my club coach Megan and a lot of other people who have directly influenced where I am today.”
Muscatine claimed three straight state titles from 2011-13. Jackson was a freshman on the Muskies' 2012 squad.
Jackson is about a half-foot taller than his freshman year of high school.
"Where he's matured more than anything is his attitude and dedication," Anderson said. "I'm not sure whether it would have developed here or not.
"He comes from a great family. His mom and dad were very supportive people. They didn't push and didn't force things to happen."
After the 2012 season, his father, Eric, accepted a job in Austin, Texas, and the family moved.
After three years of swimming for Nitro, a club program in the Austin area, he went on to have a standout career at Texas.
“The culture on the University of Texas team mimicked the culture here at Muscatine my freshman year,” Jackson said. “Everyone is here having fun and they want to go fast.
“We knew we could win state here. It was such a unique brotherhood at Texas, you feel so close to everyone. It is a huge reason my swimming has elevated to where I am now.”
Jackson hardly lifted weights during high school. He never did year-round swimming until after his freshman season of high school. He played football, baseball and soccer throughout middle school.
“It is a huge reason I never dealt with any form of burnout,” Jackson said. “A lot of guys in college quit after one or two years because they’ve been doing insane yardage since they were 6 years old.
“I didn’t even try in practice until my freshman year. That relaxed, do-what-you-want attitude has served me pretty well. I’ve always done my best under low pressure and high-fun environments."
Jackson is swimming the TYR pro swim circuit and training at the University of Texas. He is in the process of trying to negotiate a suit contract.
He is gearing up for next summer’s Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska.
Jackson swam a personal-best 47.88 in the 100 freestyle (long course) last month. It took a 48.2 to make the U.S. squad for the 2016 Olympics.
“My real goal is to be in the top six in the 100 freestyle and make the team,” Jackson said. "If I swim my best, I think I'll be OK."
Jackson plans to swim competitively for as long as he can. Once that door closes, he wants to either coach or possibly attend law school and become a sports agent.
For now, he wants to see how far swimming can take him. In the short term, he wants to earn a spot on the 2020 team that goes to Tokyo.
“Every single time I get in the water, I still love it,” Jackson said. “I have a rule if I wake up for morning practice and don’t want to go, I don’t go. I haven’t skipped practice yet because I always want to go.”