The Wolverine

August 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE AUGUST 2018 I t's just a game. Sometimes, those words are good, appropriate, necessary. The next time you're in a football sta- dium and consider hurling obscen- ity-laced invective (or something more painful) at a competitor, you should absolutely remember, it's just a game. If you're ever tempted to swap anything beyond good-natured jabs with a neighbor over a rivalry, re- member those words. If you're ever moved to swipe or scorch a nearby Michigan State banner — no matter how convinced you are of the imme- diate improvement to the surround- ings — don't do it. It's just a game. All that said, in some very real ways, this journey involving college athletics is more than a game. It's a discipline, demanding and daunting and deeply satisfying in many cases. To most, it's life changing. Just ask Connor Jaeger, the Olym- pic silver medalist and two-time Big Ten Swimmer of the Year for Michi- gan. Jaeger racked up nine Big Ten titles and 10 All-America citations swimming for the Wolverines from 2010-14. He doesn't go around boasting about those, or his three national titles. But what stays with him every single day in his profession — fa- cilitating Manhattan-area high rises reaching for the sky — is hard work. Teamwork. Dedication. Never set- tling for less. He remembers well the grinding early morning workouts with his teammates. He recalls the laughter, even amid his adopted brothers pushing each other to constantly improve, in an effort that eventually led to national championships. "You're making yourself better by making other people around you better," Jaeger recalled. "I really felt like we did a great job of that while I was in school. It's the power of positive influence and the power of always wanting to be better." That power flows through Michi- gan's athletic campus like a light- ning strike across a host of sports. Jaeger feels it even today, whether on the job or reaching out to help young people in his sport. He stood at the pinnacle of Michi- gan athletics for two straight years, like many in the pages that follow do right now. Twice, Jaeger earned the title of Male Athlete of the Year — not just in swimming, but also across Michigan's entire array of sports. Even today, the recollection stirs up a sense of disbelief. "It's so humbling," he said. "You can't help but think, how is that pos- sible? They don't want to give that to anybody else? There are so many people doing great things, you don't feel you could be deserving of something like that." Ben Flanagan understands that feeling. This year's Male Athlete of the Year became a national champion in his final race ever as a Wolverine. He went from injured and incapacitated to the best in the country by refusing to give up, taking small steps in healing and eventually succeeding beyond what anyone might have predicted. The Kitchener, Ontario, native wants to be an Olympian himself someday and knows how to work to get there as a distance runner. "Hard work pays off, and that's a very addicting feeling," Flanagan said. "You've got to find ways to have fun with it, because it's hard. "When you get to the big stage and experience those moments when hard work pays off, it's this feeling you want to feel over and over again. People will tell you, once they get into distance running, they never want to stop. It makes you feel so good about yourself to work so hard and really get some- thing out of it." He's continually amazed at the people he's met in his journey and how they came across to him. It's a lesson that impacted his outlook on both Michigan and himself. "Despite how high achieving the institution is, despite how high achieving the students, athletes and faculty are, people are so down to earth," he said. "That was such a humbling and remarkable experi- ence, to be around these people who have achieved what you want to, and they're just down-to-earth, phe- nomenal human beings." Michigan basketball all-time lead- ing scorer, Katelynn Flaherty, the Female Athlete of the Year, couldn't envision herself on as big a stage as she's known. But she stood in front of a packed house at the University of Michigan Golf Course's dining facilities during this year's Bob Ufer Quarterback Club banquet and spoke with passion and confidence. "I was shy," she said. "I would never be in front of you, speaking right now, ever. I'm still nervous, but nowhere like I would have been four years ago. It's made me an independent woman. It's shown me that I can achieve anything, that there are hard times, but there are also great times." There are great times to come as well. Remember, it's just a game … and so much more. ❏ Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB _ Wolverine. WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON It's Much More Than A Game Katelynn Flaherty finished her U-M career as the school's all-time leading scorer among both men and women, and was named The Wolverine's Female Athlete of the Year. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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