One amazing weekend for Mason High grad Thatcher

It was a hectic and worrisome time for Mason High School graduate Joel Thatcher on March 1.

The freshman swimmer at Savannah College of Art and Design was getting ready to head to the NAIA Championships in Columbus, Georgia, but he had also been checking his mail constantly for his Mormon mission assignment.

As fate would have it, the letter arrived the day before the team was scheduled to leave, but practice kept him from retrieving it.

With an 8 a.m. departure time for nationals and the mail center on campus opening at 8:30, things got a little harried.

“I had to ask Coach if we could leave a little late and he knew what was going on and agreed,” Thatcher said. “I got to the mail center at 8 and luckily someone was working and they let me in and handed me the letter.”

With his parents on the phone — Tanya, his mom, back in Mason, and Geoff, his dad, from passport control at the Abu Dhabi Airport — Thatcher read the letter over the microphone for the whole bus to cheer as he discovered he would be spending the next two years in Peru.

“There was a lot going on and the whole week was crazy,” Thatcher said. “I had no idea where I was going, but my little sister (Mia) called South America, so she was right.”

The week took off from there for Thatcher.

On the first day of the national swim meet, Thatcher swam the third leg of the 800 free relay, which erased a 50-yard deficit in the last two legs to claim the title.

On day two of the meet he broke the NAIA record in the 500 free belonging to teammate Joel Ax with a time of 4:20.35, knocking six seconds off his previous best.

On day three he broke the 1,650 free record with a time of 15:18.39.

“That was one of the best comebacks ever in the relay,” Thatcher said. “It was just surreal that it all happened.”

Thatcher’s time in the 500 would have won the NCAA Division II and Division III national titles and would have advanced him to the final 50 in Division I.

“The record seemed far out of reach because it was five seconds faster than my best times,” Thatcher said. “I was pretty confident I could win, but it wasn’t like it was in the bag for me.”

Ax, who had held the record, was on the deck watching the freshman break his record.

“He is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet,” Thatcher said. “You can see him on the deck and when I touched the wall and the time went up, he gave a big fist pump. He’s just a cool dude.”

The best part of the weekend?

“I can’t say any one part,” Thatcher said. “When I got my mission, that was it, then we had that comeback in the relay and then I broke the records. It just kept building. It was just one amazing thing after another.”

Thatcher gets out of school June 4 and 10 days later heads to Peru to begin two years of missionary work.

The downside of serving? He is allowed to call home twice a year and there’s no swimming.

“I’m going to miss calling home and talking to Mom every day,” Thatcher said. “I am definitely going to miss swimming, but I have faith it will be there when I come back.”

Thatcher will return in June 2019, which will give him one year to get back in shape for a run at the 2020 Olympic team along with his older sister Zoe.

“I have talked to other swimmers who have done their missionaries,” Thatcher said. “They said the first six months is a killer because you have to get your depth back, but after that you get back in a groove.”

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