Chad Onken, the coach of the YMCA of the Triangle swim team, said the thing that separates Holly Springs High senior Colin Ellington from many of the other top high school swimmers is that Ellington hates to lose.
“Medals, trophies, recognition. That doesn’t mean much to Colin,” Onken said. “He hates to lose more than he loves to win.”
Ellington is one of the top high school athletes in the state and has committed to N.C. State. He will begin his senior season of high school competition this week.
Ellington set the N.C. High School Athletic Association record last year in the 100-yard freestyle (44.87 seconds) and also won the 200 individual medley. Last summer in the YMCA Nationals championship, he won the 200 individual medley and was third in the 50, 100 and 200 freestyles.
Ellington, who celebrated his 17th birthday last week, also competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., last summer where he was the youngest competitor. He warmed up in the same lane with Olympic star Michael Phelps, but that was about as close as he got to fame.
“But I didn’t expect to make the finals in these Trials,” he said. “I went for the experience and to help prepare for the 2016 Trials.”
In North Carolina high school swimming, Ellington is close to regal. He is the only prep swimmer to break 45 seconds in the NCHSAA 100 championships and his winning time knocked .22 off the old record, an incredible drop considering the distance.
“He has always worked hard and set goals for himself,” Holly Springs coach Tamara Cole said. “If he doesn’t like how something feels in the water he will work on it until it is right for him. He thinks about his strategy and approach for each meet. He has a routine of listening to music that puts him in a frame of mind of one thing, feeling the water and making it the tempo that he wants to stay in.”
Cole said that if limited to one word, she would describe him as “incredible.” Given a few more words and she adds well-respected, kind-hearted, easy to get along with, a leader, a great student and a tremendous competitor.
“He does not let what he has accomplished go to his head, but he believes he can be better,” Cole said. “When a young swimmer continues to look into the future and not dwell on the past it is a good sign of success, and character. He never gives up and he wants to make others around him better. He is never satisfied and tries new things to see if they will work for him.”
Ellington has been swimming since he was 7 and hasn’t slowed down. Many days begin with a 4:15 a.m. wake-up for a 5 a.m. practice. School is followed by some food and another practice, which is followed by homework and a 9:30 bedtime.
“One of the things I like about swimming is that it is hard,” he said. “It demands a lot, but you can see the improvement.”