For his 18th birthday, Tyler Hayden’s parents surprised him by showing him videos of him swimming as a wide-eyed 5-year old.
Today, the senior at Shorecrest is one of the top swimmers in the state and a contender for Class 3A state titles in the 200-yard freestyle and 100 butterfly.
But back then his swimming skills were much more limited.
“I wonder how I ever became a swimmer because they’re really funny,” he said of the videos.
Hayden started as a novice in the Sheridan Beach swim club and then started swimming year-round at age 10 with the Cascade Swim Club as an eighth-grader. He switched to the Bellevue Swim Club for a year but now is back at Cascade, where he trains at Helene Madison Pool in Seattle.
Hayden has the fastest times in the state in 3A this year in the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly.
“I’m still going to have some stiff competition,” Hayden said. “It’s not going to be that easy,”
His main competition in the 200 freestyle is Mercer Island’s Murray Longbotham. Hayden swam a 51.1 in the butterfly in a club meet this year and is considered the favorite in that event, Shorecrest coach Bill Murray said.
“When I was younger I used to be better at other things,” Hayden said. “I was a breaststroker for awhile but I’ve really always really been good at free and fly. I ended up focusing on those as I got older.”
Hayden finished second to Camas’ Keenan Natyzak in the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly at the state 3A meet last year. Natyzak, who now swims at Texas A&M, stands 6-feet-7 inches tall towering over the 5-foot, 9-inch Hayden.
“Those big guys just have an advantage from the start with their reach and wingspan and just ability to push more water,” Hayden said. “I think I can make up for it with my athleticism. I just don’t worry about it — there’s nothing I can do to make myself bigger. You got to use what you can and do the best you can.”
What Hayden lacks in length he compensates for in quickness.
“I’m just naturally quick when I played other sports. That’s what really helped me: quickness,” he said. “I’ve got good reflexes off the blocks. I think I’ve got one of the best kicks in the state.”
Hayden’s talents extend to other events as well. He owns five individual Shorecrest school records. They include the 200 freestyle (1:42.81), the 100 butterfly (52.10), the 100 freestyle (47.2), the 500 freestyle (4:45.5) and the 200 individual medley (1:59.9). He also swam on the record-breaking 400 freestyle relay team. He’s going to try to break the school 50-freestyle record at districts in his leg of the 200 freestyle relay.
Hayden’s dedicated his season to Murray, who stepped away from coaching full-time this season to battle colon cancer.
“Those records I just want to do for him because I knew he enjoys it,” Hayden said.
Shorewood girls coach Susie McDowell and assistant Ryan Treadway have been filling in for Murray, who finished a round of treatment this week, and expects to be around for the postseason meets.
“We’ve had a great relationship over the four years. You don’t replace a kid like Tyler — you just move on,” Murray said.
Hayden, a Lake Forest Park native, played soccer, basketball, baseball and ran distances growing up but decided to focus on swimming.
“I just loved the sport and I thought I had a bright future in it,” Hayden said. “It was really hard to quit the other sports because I loved playing a variety of things.”
Murray, who has coached at Shorewood and Shorecrest, said Hayden is the most talented and most versatile swimmer he’s had the privilege to coach. He also called Hayden one of the smartest swimmers he’s ever coached who has tremendous insight into his technique.
But to get to the stage he is today, Hayden had to endure some trials.
During his freshman and sophomore years Hayden struggled with back problems, the result of how he was being trained and his growth at the time, Murray said.
Hayden used stretch cords in his physical therapy, which strengthens the support muscles in the back. He does the workouts for 45 minutes to an hour while at swim practice.
Hayden also struggled with food allergies and asthma early in his high school career. He changed his diet, which helped clear up those problems and made it possible for him to train harder.
Cascade Swim Club coach Tom Pardee has worked with Hayden since he was 10.
“I think he’s a good athlete all the way around,” Pardee said. “He does have a lot of quickness. He’s a very hard worker and that makes a big difference. He’s one of those kids that shows up for workout no matter what. You can count on him being there.”
Pardee recalled that Hayden as a 10-year-old entered the 500 freestyle for the first time and came out aggressive, sprinting the first 25 yards. Pardee signaled him to slow down, but another coach waved him off, believing that he might do all right. Sure enough, Hayden set a 10-year-old Cascade record.
“He’s technically very good,” Pardee said. “The work ethic has a lot to do with it. He’s explosive. Tyler has a lot of, if not all, the ingredients to be an elite swimmer and go farther than he has.”
Right now, Pardee said, Hayden is a mid-level Division I swimmer but where he truly stands will be determined at state. Hayden has four schools he’s considering right now: Washington, West Virginia, Arizona State and UC Santa Barbara, but he said he expects to wait until March or April to make a decision.
For now the focus is on districts and state. Hayden believes all the work he’s put in will pay off.
“I have a great work ethic and I’m just a competitor I hate losing,” Hayden said. “I just have that will to win and be better than everyone else.”