Beneath the water

By Gus Bode

The sun has yet to show itself – it will be missing for another hour or so.

But somewhere in the darkness, Dennis Hedo is there, feverishly pedaling his green mountain bike down Mill Street.

It’s a swift start to the demanding day ahead.


A 6 a.m. swimming practice at the Recreational Center is just the beginning.

Read the clock: 5:32 a.m.

Dennis Hedo’s alarm clock rings daily at 5:32 a.m. Hedo, a sophomore on the SIU swim team, isn’t sure why he wakes up at such a peculiar time.

“The clock’s just set on that,” he says.

The early rise is a rut he’s fallen into.

Practice has been nonstop since the beginning of September in preparation for their first meet, which was Sept. 30. The Salukis swept the University of Evansville in that meet by winning all 27 events.

And ever since early September, 5:32 a.m. has been a segue to days of multiple practices, weightlifting, classes and schoolwork along with a job at the Rec Center.


That’s the thing no one else understands, Hedo said after his morning practice, as he sprawls across a brown and tan chair.

“Most people know swimming practice is pretty hard,” Hedo says, as roommate and fellow swimmer Ray Sophie takes in his morning dose of ESPN’s SportsCenter. “But they don’t understand just how much practice we put in.”

On a daily basis, he’s out the door dangerously close to 6 a.m. – at about 10 minutes till.

But Hedo comes from Sweden, a country that is all about speed, at least in the pool.

Ten minutes is more than enough time to reach the Dr. Edward Shea Natatorium.

“The ride’s downhill,” Hedo said.

Life in the lanes

The sound of flesh hitting the water is monotonous.

At 7:10 a.m., Hedo has been slicing water for more than an hour. The sun has been out for 20 minutes.

SIU head swimming coach Rick Walker knows taking to the water at that time takes commitment, something Hedo oozes.

“To an outsider looking in, it looks insane,” Walker said. “But not to a swimmer who wants to be really, really good.”

During morning practices, the Salukis swim the length of the 100-yard pool. Using a kickboard, Hedo finished his sixth lap.

Three seconds and a shot of water later, Hedo is back at it.

Walker said Hedo doesn’t have off days.

The days that challenges arise are the days Hedo kicks it up a notch.

“He holds those expectations every day,” Walker said. “Not when he feels like it or not, when it’s easy or not, when he’s only feeling good – every day.”

“He’s working extra hard everday, it’s not easy.”

Most of the days could be categorized under anything but easy.

After morning practice, the sophomore sprinter has little time to spare. Downing some oatmeal and a turkey sandwich, he says school isn’t easy. It isn’t long before he trades Speedos and goggles in for philosophy and Greek mythology.

The days are long, especially when they start at 5:32 a.m.

“Some days I’ll get real tired from doing all that,” Hedo says. “I get too tired to think in school. I just go there and listen, but I can’t really pay attention.”

For most other in-season athletes, one practice and a full class schedule would push their tolerance to the brim.

Swimmers do it all over again.

Hedo says it’s worth it. As a freshman, he won the Missouri Valley Conference championship in the 200-yard freestyle. He is expected to compete this year – in SIU’s first season as part of the Sun Belt conference – in the 200 freestyle, the 100 freestyle and the 100 breaststroke.

So Hedo attacks the water.

Sharing a lane with Sophie during the second practice, Hedo is hit nonstop with butterfly, freestyle and breaststrokes.

As practice wraps up at around 4:15 p.m., Hedo and teammates have logged about nine miles in the water.

Stroke after stroke, Hedo has painfully piled up the yardage. At that point, it’s a battle.

“You have to be strong mentally,” he says after.

Outside of the pool

After a meeting for his job at the Rec Center, it’s time for Hedo to indulge.

Some might not call a 6 p.m. dinner at Trueblood Hall indulging, but Hedo will take it.

“I could go to Wal-Mart and get food, but I’m too lazy,” he says after clearing a mouthful of pasta dipped in ketchup.

Lisa Jaquez, a freshman on the swim team, questions her friend’s ketchup use, and then some more.

“Dennis is weird. He has cuffed pants,” Jaquez says, pointing to two-inch cuffs in Hedo’s black jeans.

“It’s in Europe right now,” Hedo fires back. “You just haven’t seen it yet.”

He downs another turkey sandwich and a piece of meat he believes to be roast beef.

Back at his apartment on Forest Street, Hedo notices the time passing by.

It’s 9 p.m., but fatigue has already blindsided him.

“I need to sleep a lot,” Hedo said. “I can fall asleep like anywhere. Sleeping is not a problem for me.”

Usually, rest is often thrown on the backburner. Hedo has school the next morning, just like everyone else.

Oftentimes, the rigors of swimming override sleep and fun.

“I laugh in my head when someone comes into an 8 o’clock class late, and they say how they overslept, or it’s too early,” Hedo said. “I’m like, ‘C’mon, I’ve been up for three hours at least.'”

Hedo walks to his room at 9:30 p.m., a time the average college student is seldom sleeping.

Not Hedo.

He has a 5:32 a.m. alarm to wake up to.