The first time Matthew Segal jumped in the pool was when he started swimming in the WISC summer league for the Huron Valley Swim Club when he was just 6 years old. The last time Segal jumped in the pool was earlier this month at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials in Omaha, Neb., at the age of 18.
In between, Segal has made quite the splash. Over the previous four years, Segal has been one of the standout swimmers for a Pioneer swimming and diving program loaded with standout swimmers – but Segal even stood out from that elite group. Along the way, he has won league titles, state titles, set pool records and varsity records and club records and established himself on a whole different level than even the best in the state.
He has won All-State honors, All-American honors and also earned a swimming scholarship to the University of Wisconsin.
So, how do you go from the Huron Valley Swim Club to the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials in just over 10 years? It all starts with having a passion and love for the sport. Michael Jordan and Tom Brady out worked everyone because they first loved what they were doing – if the passion isn’t there, the hard work becomes just work.
And Matthew Segal loves to swim – and compete. It’s just in his DNA. The hard work isn’t really work when you love what you’re working on.
“My biggest personal goal has always been to swim fast and have fun doing it,” says Segal. “Swimming has always been the highlight of my day and it is very important that it stays that way. Working hard in the pool is important, but even more important is having fun while doing it. That is the extra challenge I put on myself at every practice and meet.
“Obviously, there are lots of little things to fix with my strokes, but the main thing I focus on is a consistent determined effort. With this mindset and grit, all of my goals are within reach.”
Segal checked off all of his high school goals, including an incredible bon voyage in March during his final swim meet as a member of the Pioneer swimming and diving team. He won two individual events and helped lead Pioneer to a convincing Division 1 State Championship – the second-place team was more than 135 points behind the champions.
After winning the 200 freestyle, Segal won the breaststroke in an All-Division/Class Finals record time of 53.26 seconds. He also was part of the second-place medley relay and the runner-up 400 free relay and had two sets of back-to-back swims at States: 200 medley relay to 200 free and 100 breaststroke to 400 free relay.
“This year’s team was very special,” Segal said. “We had an amazing atmosphere at practice highlighted with hard work, grit, and a level of comedy that makes all the pain and suffering bearable. Everyone focused on improving, not only for the benefit of themselves, but for the benefit of the team.
“We were thankful every day to be together in the water in the first place, but more than that, we had the opportunity to do some amazing things. I am really thankful to be a part of something so special.”
There was a special team atmosphere with Pioneer. Swimming can be a very individual sport but Pioneer always jumped into the pool with a team-first mindset – and that showed up in the results.
“We celebrated every success from a personal time drop to a state cut,” Segal said. “You may be excited for your race result, but that is nothing compared to how excited the other guys on the team are to celebrate your achievement. Some of my favorite memories this year were cheering on my teammates and going crazy when they earned their state cuts.”
Strong programs start with strong leadership and Segal said he was “honored” to be one of the team captains this past year at Pioneer.
“I like to inspire and lead by my example,” he says. “When we have fun, we swim fast. We are building lifelong friendships and I want these guys to have great memories of this experience even with the difficult practices. I tried to continue the legacy the prior Pioneer captains have left for me to make this team a welcoming place where we respect and encourage each other to be the best in the pool and out. One thing I have learned is that motivating people around me to achieve their highest potential is just as fulfilling as achieving a goal for myself.”
And Segal achieved plenty of goals for himself – and his team.
He qualified for the state finals all four years at Pioneer and along the way broke pool records at Huron, Chelsea and Skyline. He also has two pool and varsity records at Pioneer’s Hill pool.
As a freshman, Segal swam the 200 IM (finishing 14th with a time of 1:56.35) and the 100 free (finishing 16th with a time of 47.32). His sophomore year, he swam the 200 free (finishing 3rd with a time of 1:40.94) and the 100 breast (finishing 4th with a time of 55.85).
His junior year, Segal was primed for a big showing at States when COVID shut everything down in March 2020. He had the fastest time in the 100 breast and one of the fastest times in the 200 IM.
“We had one of our strongest teams this past year,” Segal said. “We had such incredible depth on the team and this was one of the pivotal reasons for our success. Not only do we have guys who could place very highly in numerous races, we had swimmers who were consistent and could make final heats and perform their best.”
Matthew, the son of Kirsten and Jon Segal, finished his academic high school career with a 4.0 grade-point average and was recently named Pioneer’s Male Athlete of the Year. Considering his incredible athletic and academic success, he had plenty of excellent choices when it came to college. But he decided to make his next big splash in Madison.
“Choosing to swim for the University of Wisconsin was a decision I put a lot of thought into,” he says. “But in the end, I couldn’t be more thrilled with my choice. After my official visit to meet the team and the coaches, I fell in love with the program and the school. The coaching staff headed by Coach Yuri Suguiyama is truly amazing and they were exactly the fit I was looking for. That accompanied by the welcoming team made it an easy decision.”
Segal, who will study Biomedical Engineering, was very impressed with Wisconsin’s engineering school and the resources they put into their students.
Segal, who also swam for Slauson Middle School, spent the last 10 years swimming for Club Wolverine, one of the top swimming clubs not only in the state, but in the country. He says club swimming was very important to his development and success because it gave him an extremely competitive place to swim year-round.
“I have had a really incredible experience with CW,” he said. “Club swimming has given me the opportunity to compete at a national level which has been very special. Flying on team travel trips to large swim meets across the country with the team are some of my favorite memories.
“And swimming against faster and faster people is how you get faster yourself.”
Segal isn’t all about swimming and studying – he does have other interests. And like swimming, when he finds something he likes, he jumps in with both feet – or in this case, both eyes.
“This fall, my brother (Jacob, 22, who will be a senior this year in mechanical engineering at Purdue) and I decided to try astrophotography,” he says. “We purchased a telescope and all the necessary equipment to realize this dream. There is a huge learning curve to capturing the perfect photos and some nights we would spend hours out in the freezing cold and get nothing. Taking pictures of the night sky and all the nebula and galaxies that are up there has been a great thing to do together.
“And with the quarantine and school being remote, I also had the chance to work more diligently on my model ship building. I am building a wooden model of the French ship, Belem. I really enjoy all of the detail work – especially the painting.”
Unlike the MHSAA State Finals, the U.S. Olympic Team Trials was a brand new experience for Segal and he jumped in with eyes wide open. He entered the meet ranked 34th out of 85 swimmers and left ranked 24th – despite competing against mostly college swimmers. It was a very valuable experience and he will be even more prepared – mentally and physically – the next time he dives into these highly competitive waters in a few years.
“These past four years have taught me a lot, and times that I thought were impossible to break are now in my range,” he says.
What will the next four years bring? As long as he maintains that passion and drive, other things he thought were once impossible will be clearly in his range.