Last year, Peter Forstmeier’s freshman swimming season ended in the District 6 championships.
He finished in second place in the 500-yard freestyle and third in the 200 individual medley, but it wasn’t good enough to make the state championships.
Forstmeier brought home titles in both events in dominating fashion. He was four seconds ahead of second place in the 200 IM and 21 seconds faster than second in the 500.
The performances earned him spots at the PIAA Swimming and Diving Championships at Bucknell’s Kinney Natatorium. The meet runs Wednesday through Saturday, starting at 8 a.m. each day. Forstmeier will be joined by top performers from Bellefonte in the Class AA meet Friday and Saturday, while State College competes in Class AAA events Wednesday and Thursday.
Unlike many of his competitors this week, Forstmeier will travel without teammates.
He is the only member of the St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy swim team — and only the second swimmer the school has ever had. Almost every achievement he earns is a school first and a school record. However, even without teammates, the sophomore is never truly alone and most of it is due to a chance encounter.
While doing laps at the State College YMCA, Forstmeier was approached by a stranger who was swimming with his kids. That stranger, after a little conversation, was Ryan Sprang, the head coach of the Nittany Lion Aquatic Club and the State College varsity team. He asked Forstmeier to stop by and practice with them at some point. It inspired Forstmeier to join the team after hearing about it from many other swimming friends. It also led to a decision to quit playing baseball and focus on swimming year round.
“I thought, ‘Well if I continue to train with NLAC through the spring and summer, then by the middle of summer, maybe I can beat my best times again,” Forstmeier said.
“Peter has a top notch work ethic,” Sprang said. “He’s such a coachable kid and really has a burning desire to improve and therefore he soaks up all the feedback he can get. He’s like a sponge.”
Prior to the encounter, Ken Forstmeier acted as coach for his son, as sports were natural to the family. His father was a rower at the Coast Guard Academy and New York Athletic Club, while among his five brothers there was one other swimmer (Thomas, a team captain for Bellefonte), a cross country runner (Stephen for St. Joe’s), and a baseball player (Michael, for St. Joe’s).
Forstmeier swam mostly at the State College YMCA while working with his father.
“Training with my dad last year was really good and I got really good training,” Peter Forstmeier said, “but one of the reasons that it didn’t pan out so well was because of the environment. We didn’t have a steady pool and at the State College YMCA, it’s open swim, open lap, so I would usually have to share the lane with someone.”
Now, Forstmeier is excited for his PIAA debut.
“Overall, I’m just excited for the experience, getting to a higher level of competition,” he said. “I also just really love that pool. I think it’s one of the greatest ever. The water is cool and crisp, they have the vent system that removes the chlorine from the air, and I just really love swimming at Bucknell.”
His goal is to make it to the night races in at least one event, but he will need to make a top-16 time in morning preliminaries. That won’t be easy, since he is seeded 28th in the 200 and 32nd in the 500.
Sprang cited Forstmeier’s work ethic as a factor in his recent success.
“He’s a great student of the sport and is just a pleasure to coach. He gives a 110 percent at every practice and that is the biggest reason why he’s progressed in such a short amount of time. “ Sprang said.
When thinking about states and his future Forstmeier isn’t nervous — at least not yet.
“I normally don’t get nervous until about the day of,” Forstmeier said. “Always for the 500. Even if I’m seeded well, or I think I’m going to win or I think I’m going to lose, no matter what happens I always get nervous.”
He also hopes his recent success will make for a new wave of swimmers. His school is already behind him and he now has his own warmup suit to use to represent his school.
While he may be the only representative of his school in the pool, he’s hoping his run at states will make for an inspiration to other county swimmers or those even considering the prospect.
“Hopefully doing well at districts and states encourages some other people,” he said, “whether it be from State High, St. Joe’s, Bellefonte, or anywhere, seeing my success, or moderate success, and hopefully thinking, ‘Hey it’d be fun to swim with that guy, I should do that.’ Hopefully that will become a reality.”