This isn’t the fun kind of power hour.
Getting in the pool and swimming at top speed for 60 consecutive minutes — that’s the definition of a power hour for Mike Foley. The girls on the Framingham High swim team have no power left when it’s over.
“Every swimmer in that pool is thinking, ‘This is one of the worst things I’ve ever been through in my life,’” explained junior Maddie Biron.
Good thing the Flyers’ coach is a born motivator, the son of a man who beat his rival swimmers at every level he competed in, joined the Navy, later joined the public school system and coached the Weston High swim teams to a 605-42-2 record (.932) from 1972-2007.
Pete Foley was a tough act follow, but his son has carved out his own impressive coaching resume, at both Framingham High (fall season) and Wayland High (winter).
The Flyers won their 10th consecutive Bay State Conference championship this season. Mike Foley’s only nonchampionship season was his first as Framingham’s coach, 11 years ago.
“I think we were second that year,” he said.
This fall, the Flyers weren’t expecting much. Framingham graduated a talented class of seniors that helped lead the Flyers to their first-ever sectional title last year.
“I didn’t think we were going to be this good,” said senior diver Alyssa Seales.
It all started with the power hours. And before the power hours, a speech. Those are Foley’s specialty.
He often contacts his father for advice on those. He will brief the elder Foley on the current state of the team, then he will get an answer. Sometimes it’s direct; other times it lies in a riddle.
“Read this book,” Pete Foley might say.
“Sometimes he likes to make me dig for it myself,” Mike said.
When the answer is finally found, it’s relayed to the team during practices, before meets, and sometimes after meets.
‘Sometimes he likes to make me dig for it myself.’
After the Flyers lost to Newton North, their only loss to a conference opponent this season, Foley’s words were inspirational.
“We were upset we lost, but Foley had a way of making it sound like it was OK,” Biron said. “It made us want to win Bay State, made it seem like it wasn’t a big deal.”
When Biron was a freshman, she swam for fun. By the end of her sophomore season, she was so invested in the sport she decided to swim year-round.
This fall, she won both the 100 freestyle and the 50 freestyle during the conference championship. Both of her times were school records, as well as conference meet records. At the South/Central sectional championship last Sunday at MIT, Biron won the 100-yard freestyle and anchored the 200 freestyle and medley relays to wins. Her come-from-behind feats have become expected at Framingham.
“Something clicked for me last year,” she said. “Last year was so unexpected for me. I never thought I would be able to win an individual event at South sectionals. I never thought that was possible for me. And then especially us winning as a team — I didn’t even know that was attainable.
“It makes you stop and think, ‘This is what we worked so hard for. This is why we go through horrible practices, do uphill sprints in the summer, do all that to get this one amazing feeling after you win.’
“It’s 100 percent worth it. It may not seem worth it as you’re swimming the hardest practices ever, doing power hour, it doesn’t seem like it,’' Biron said. “But it is.”
Foley had a similar impact on her older sister, Carly Biron, who quit competitive swimming when she was 12 because she felt burned out.
She joined the high school team as a freshman. By her senior year in 2011, she had a scholarship offer from University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she’s currently swimming.
“I would’ve never gone back to swimming if it wasn’t for Foley,” she said. “You look at swimming and it looks like an individual sport, but he made it a team sport. It’s hard to make it through practice if you’re not surrounded by positive people, and he enforced positivity.”
Of course there are swimmers like junior Ali Lie, who set school records in both butterfly events this season, and divers like Seales and fellow senior Maura Sticco-Ivins, an All-American who hasn’t lost in two straight seasons, who may not need the motivation to be successful. But a little boost doesn’t hurt.
Every year before the sectional championship, Foley, along with assistant coach Jerry Moss and a few other helpers, come up with a motivational theme. They set aside a few hundred dollars from the team’s fund-raising money to make T-shirts with the selected slogan.
The Wizard of Oz has long been a theme. The message: Whatever you’re looking for, you might already have it inside you.
Two years ago, the theme was about a duck who could make it through his struggles. The Flyers wore duck T-shirts and brought rubber ducks to the sectional meet. Last year the theme was “Do your job.” The T-shirts had an eagle punching a time clock.
This year the theme was “Rise to the occasion.” And they did.
When the Flyers were losing to Bishop Feehan after the swimming portion of the sectionals, Sticco-Ivins and Seales combined for 37 points to lift Framingham to victory.
The coach spends his days as a physical education and health teacher at Framingham High, where he’s tried to master the art of motivation.
“I want them to enjoy what they do in my class,” said Foley, who credits his wife, Darcie, for supporting his time and efforts with the program. “The motivating piece is not athletics, but it’s still sports and movements and trying to get people to try new things, and believe they can do more than they thought they can do.
“The next All-American could be in our pool right now, we just haven’t reached our full potential yet.”
The Flyers are competing for a state championship Sunday at Harvard. They’re expecting to finish fifth. The Framingham girls have never won a state title.
But they will show up in their “Rise to the occasion” T-shirts and see what happens.
It’s just a T-shirt. And chances are, the Flyers won’t need them.
Maybe they had what they were looking for the whole time.Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.