Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan — Dacula senior swimmer Michael Ragan poses for a portrait during practice at SwimAtlanta Sugarloaf in Lawrenceville Friday.
Swimming wasn't always Michael Ragan's main pursuit and until recently, didn't get his full attention.
The Dacula senior followed his family into summer leagues --his older siblings Chris and Jenni were both swimmers --but his interests always varied into other sports, too.
He gave year-round swimming a shot when he was 11, but it lasted just a year and his only swimming happened in the summer.
"I never completely stopped swimming," Ragan said. "I didn't get really serious into it when I was young. I saw a bunch of my friends burn out. I didn't really want that to happen to me, especially when I wanted to play basketball so bad."
With that in mind, Ragan shifted his focus to basketball. He played on top teams and enjoyed himself in a sport that he still plays recreationally as often as he can. He even picked up tennis for a few years, another sport he plays in his free time.
After nearly five years away from year-round swimming, Ragan returned to more regular training the pool, a renewed interest that was sparked by watching his sister's college meets.
"I just missed the racing," Ragan said. "Basketball you had the team and everything. My basketball team was really good. But I missed racing."
Ragan began training at SwimAtlanta's Hamilton Mill location as a Dacula freshman, then worked his way up to more intensive training at the club's Sugarloaf location, where the majority of Gwinnett's high-level swimmers train.
Though his training produced results early, he admitted that he wasn't getting the most out of it at first. That changed roughly a year ago.
"(SwimAtlanta's) helped so much," Ragan said. "I started late and I really didn't take it seriously the first couple of years. I knew I was fast. I knew I was good. But I didn't realize how much training could actually help me until a year ago or so. Just training this past year, I've dropped a lot of time.
"Just getting my mind into it and trying at practice. Just really wanting it a lot more. I think the idea that I could go to college for swimming kind of pushed me a little bit over the edge and made me want to train harder."
Gwinnett teams now are seeing what a focused Ragan can do.
He has Gwinnett's fastest 200-yard freestyle this season and ranks second in the county in the 50 and 100 free. He also ranks in the top eight in Gwinnett in four other individual events.
He currently holds seven of Dacula's eight school records in swimming, and also is a part of two record-setting Falcon relays.
"Michael is an invaluable student-athlete in the pool and in the classroom," Dacula swimming coach Kristin Croteau said. "He leads his team in all aspects of the sport. He embodies the true meaning of a team captain. We are grateful Michael has been a part of our program the last four years. He is a humble and driven athlete that will achieve anything in athletics and in life. He has left a great legacy here at Dacula High School."
His most visible legacy is the Dacula record book.
He's held every individual record at one point, but teammate Andrew Johnson swam the 100 fly in 53.96 seconds this season to bump him out of that spot. Ragan still has 50 free (21.67), 100 free (47.45), 200 free (1:42.70), 500 free (4:43.17), 200 individual medley (1:58.79) and 100 breaststroke (1:06.13) school records.
He lowered his older brother Chris' records in the 50 and 100 free in previous seasons, then bumped his brother's 2010 200 free relay from the No. 1 spot this season.
"I texted him and said, 'We broke all of your records, you're out of the record book,'" said Ragan, laughing at the recollection.
All kidding aside, Ragan is proud of the mark he's left on his high school program.
"It's cool," Ragan said. "I don't think any of the records at my school are my fastest times. But it's cool to leave my impact at Dacula. My name's going to be there for a long time, just like James Campbell's was the whole time before I came. It's cool to get that recognition."
Ragan, who is still undecided on a college, is excited about lowering some of those marks the rest of the high school season. He and his teammates have high hopes for what is the strongest Dacula teams in recent years.
"Oh yeah, this is (the best team I've been on)," Ragan said. "We've broke two relay records already this year. We broke the 200 free relay without even trying. We were just like, 'Let's just swim it.' We were racing Grayson, so why not. The team is great."