Profile: Gabe Labadie is helping lead the Pioneers into familiar waters

Not every lesson swimmers learn is in the water. In fact, the really valuable ones are learned on dry land by – just ask Pioneer’s Gabe Labadie.

Labadie is one of the captains on this year’s extremely talented Pioneer boys’ swimming and diving team and he takes that role seriously because it’s important. And he learned that lesson when he was new to the Pioneer program and still learning the ropes.

“One of the captains my freshman year, Tyler Sakalys-Moore, really inspired me in his ability to make the swim team feel like a family,” says Labadie. “I’ve tried to follow in his footsteps to create an inclusive team where everyone has a place. I believe that people are more likely to sacrifice for a team when they know they belong.”

Labadie, 18, is now a senior and a key contributor both in and out of the water. He’s excited about this year’s team and it’s seemingly unlimited potential.

“Pioneer’s biggest strength is our collective dedication to the sport,” Labadie says. “We all want each other to succeed and are willing to motivate each other to achieve goals. With this shortened season, we have to be even more focused than usual. Everyone has been working incredibly hard and I know it will show at the end of the season.”

The Pioneers hope to turn hard into huge accomplishments.

“When we met with the team to set goals this year, our team came to the consensus that our main goals were to work hard, be accountable and win,” Labadie says. “The key to our success will be coming to practice every day with a purpose and executing on these goals.”

Labadie is a perfect example of how hard work equals accomplished goals. Two seasons ago as a sophomore, he missed his state cut in the 200 freestyle by one one-hundredth of a second. He used that as motivation instead of dwelling on the one tick of the stopwatch.

“I got back in the pool and worked hard during the off-season and was able to get the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle state cuts,” he says. Last year’s State Finals were cancelled because of the pandemic, but   Labadie is hoping he will get to compete in a state meet this year and finish his high school career on a high.

This season is off to a great start for the Pioneers, who opened the season with a victory over the always-strong Saline Hornets. But Pioneer, and most teams, aren’t where they usually are at this point of the season.

“Getting ready for this season has felt like starting from scratch,” Labadie says. “I was unable to swim regularly for much of the summer and fall which made the first week of practice a wreck. I’m finally starting to get back into shape and hope to start getting back to my fastest times in the next few weeks.”

Hopefully, this season swims along uninterrupted and ends with a state meet – unlike last year.

“Having states canceled last year just a few hours before we were supposed to leave was very painful,” Labadie says. “I remember being extremely discouraged. But a few weeks later some of the Pioneer guys and I bought wetsuits and started swimming in lakes in the spring and summer so we could be prepared for this season. I’m excited to be able to show that extra work and get in the pool one last time before college.”

Labadie admits his swimming ability is not where he left it last spring.

“My primary goal for the beginning of the season is to get back into shape,” he says. “My end of season goal is to show up for my team at the state meet and get as many best times as possible. To accomplish this I’ll have to focus more than I ever have and do difficult things in practice that others aren’t willing to do.”

Labadie has been a member of Club Wolverine and the Saline Swim Team in recent years. He says both of these teams have furthered his love for swimming and given him the opportunity to compete at a high level all year long. “A special shout out to the best coach ever Kristyne Cole,” he says.

Gabe, the son of Brad and Melissa Labadie, is the head of grants and fundraising at local education non-profit ByKids4Kids and also created an anti-cyberbullying club. As for beyond Pioneer, he is keeping his options open.

“I haven’t made a decision yet on where I’ll go to college or whether I’ll swim,” he says. “It will depend on what school I go to and what athletic programs they offer. I hope to go to a college with a great sense of community and an emphasis on service to the community with a good business program.”

Pioneer swimming photos by Nancy Fonte