Nic Fink, former Pingry School swim team standout, this summer achieved personal-best times in the pool and competed with world-class names like Michael Phelps.
It was, as he described, "an awesome experience."
But the 19-year-old Morristown resident fell short earlier this month of earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic swimming team at the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb.
"It felt pretty good," Fink said about achieving those personal-best times. "Just knowing that all your hard work's paid off. It's just an awesome feeling being able to compete at that level, and I'm really happy to be able to and I'm so blessed that I can."
Fink was a talented swimmer while at the private Pingry School in Bernards Township — for example, setting two record times when he participated in the Somerset County Swimming Championship in 2011.
One of Fink's competitor's in high school competitions — Brad Wachenfeld, who this year graduated from Ridge High School — also qualified for the Olympic trials, but fell short of making the team that will swim in the London games.
In the Olympic Trials, Fink made it past the preliminary round in the 100-meter breaststroke, where he finished 11th in the semifinals in a time of 1:01.14. Four-time Olympic medalist Brendan Hansen took first in 59.71.
In the 200-meter breaststroke, Fink finished in 2:13.89, which landed him in 17th place in the prelims. He fell just one spot short in making the semifinals.
Fink took 26th place in the 200-meter IM prelims behind swimming greats Ryan Lochte and Phelps, who went 1-2, with another personal record of 2:03.69.
Although falling short of making the Olympic team, which takes the top two swimmers in each event out of the top eight in the finals, Fink, a rising sophomore at the University of Georgia and former star swimmer at Pingry School, accomplished both of his goals at his first Olympic try.
He walked into one of the fastest swim meets in the world with the goals of getting as many personal best times and qualifying for at least one semifinal.
Fink, who was named the SEC Freshman of the Year this year and made First-Team All-SEC, said the atmosphere on the pool deck was what got him pumped up the most, and compared it to being in a stadium at a championship game for other sports.
"I arrived there and I saw the pool for the first time, and I stood in awe," he said. "It was just an awesome experience."
Competing at the meet with some of the biggest names in swimming, such as Lochte and Phelps, both Olympic gold-medalists and world record-holders, contributed to Fink's unforgettable experience.
"It feels good to get some experience in racing those guys, and I kind of hope that one day I can be as fast as them," he said. "They're all good role models to look up to."
Fink first found out he qualified for the Olympic trials two years ago at the U.S. Open when he was approaching his senior year of high school. He had the goal of making the Olympic trials since his sophomore year, and said he takes "baby steps" when it comes to goals.
"I was trying to make the junior cut about four years ago, and then the senior cut three years ago, and then the trial cut," he said. "I've been growing and dropping time so I'm pretty happy I've been able to make all these goals."
After Fink's spring semester ended in May, he stayed at the Athens, Ga., campus until trials and trained with the team, participating in 10 swim practices and three lifting sessions per week. At trials, Fink represented his club team that he swam with during high school, the Cougar Aquatic Team in Montclair.
Fink's swim coach at at Pingry recalls his 'transformation'
Fink, who started out swimming at the age of eight at the Cromwell Hills pool summer swim team in Morristown, became one of Pingry School's most talented swimmers ever, and was named the New Jersey State Swimmer of the Year in both his junior and senior years. He has several records at the school, and earned a number of accolades during his a four-year career on the team.
"It was exciting to watch Nic develop from a skinny freshman swimmer to one of New Jersey's elite level swimmers," said Bill Reichle, Fink's former swim coach at Pingry.
"Nic's transformation can be attributed to his desire to be the best and to attack any challenge he confronted during his time at Pingry," Reichle recalled. "He certainly helped put Pingry Swimming on the top of high school swimming in New Jersey."
Reichle added he looks forward to watching Fink now become "a contender on both the national and world scene over the next few years leading up to the 2016 Olympics."
Fink returned last week to Morristown from Omaha, Neb., and plans to take a few days off from the pool, and then return to train for the U.S. Open in August. He plans to train with the Cougar Aquatic Team for a few days, and then head back to Georgia in about a week.
Although the summer Olympics in 2016 in Brazil seem like a world away, Fink envisions giving the Olympics a second try.
"I think in four years from now, I can definitely see myself competing at the trials and hopefully making Rio," he said. "We'll see."
Linda Sadlouskos contributed to this story