Most athletes play to their strengths. Gerald Hodges II plays to his weakness. “If I couldn’t handle not being good at something, how could I consider myself a successful person?” he said.
An accomplished football, basketball and track athlete in junior high, Gerald had plenty of options as a freshman at Arlington Seguin High School, near Dallas. He didn’t need to consider swimming, especially because he didn’t know how to swim. But then he met swim coach Alex Weidemann. “I’m a religious person, and when Coach was talking to me, I felt like it was something I needed to do,” Gerald said. When his parents were just as enthusiastic, he was all in. Gerald quickly discovered, though, that he had jumped in the deep end. In his first practices, he said, “I was the only one who couldn’t get across the pool.”
“At his level, it probably would have been prudent to get rid of him,” Weidemann told WFAA in Dallas of Gerald’s early practices. “But there was something so different about his mentality and his work ethic.” Gerald already had learned to rise above challenges. After a tough beginning with standard lessons, he learned to play cello and taught himself piano through nontraditional, intuitive instruction and lots and lots of practice. By high school, he was accomplished enough to join one of Arlington Seguin’s advanced music groups as first chair cello. He applied those same principles to swimming.
Several of his teammates were nearly as inexperienced, so Weidemann’s early goals for Gerald and the team were to finish a race without being disqualified. By his junior year, Gerald’s perseverance started to pay off. He and his teammates got better and started to place in races. By his senior year, they were winning races. They entered regionals in February, though, with little chance to finish first or second and advance to the state meet. Gerald competed in a preliminary heat of the 50-meter freestyle next to a swimmer from Mansfield Summit High, who was thrilled that he set a personal best of 23 seconds. “I knew I could do a 22,” Gerald said. Later that day, as the anchor in the 200 medley relay, Gerald hit the water just after the same swimmer from Summit and with Arlington Seguin lagging in sixth place.
“I didn’t know we were that far behind, which was probably good. All I was focused on was catching the dude next to me, because I knew I could,” Gerald said. He was so focused that he didn’t notice he passed three other dudes, nearly unheard of in short relay swims. Gerald’s all-out effort pushed Seguin to second and a berth in the state meet. Though the team swam its second fastest time the next week in the state prelims, its dream run ended after the first race. “We were nervous and jittery. We were in awe against the fastest swimmers in the state,” he said. “But for us to get to compete against them was an honor.”
His competitive swimming days may be behind him, but new challenges await. Gerald is a freshman at the University of Texas Arlington, majoring in math and education. His goal is to teach middle school math and coach basketball. The plan with teaching and coaching is to do it his way: accepting the unorthodox, unrelenting hard work and never saying never.