ELLSWORTH — Talor Hamilton wasn’t always eager to jump into a pool.
Ellsworth High School coach Jim Goodman recalls the first time he met the future standout swimmer 10 years ago at a swim lesson.
“He thought he was coming to the pool to play,” Goodman says. “He was very upset with his mother. Very loudly upset with his mother.”
A decade later, Hamilton has developed into one of the state’s top swimmers. The senior recently committed to attend the Division II Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida, in the fall of 2016.
Hamilton won four state titles this season and has been named Maine’s Class B Swimmer of the Year three straight times.
“That’s unheard of,” Goodman says. “Talor is one of the best swimmers to come out of Maine in a long time.”
It was not the future Goodman could have expected from a child, who at age 7 or 8 was unwilling to swim.
“He didn’t want to get in the water,” Goodman says. “His mother looked at me, kind of forebodingly.”
Goodman proposed an alternative option for the young Hamilton: He could take part in the lesson or carry Goodman’s stuff.
Hamilton picked the latter. He followed Goodman around, hauling kickboards, hula hoops and pool noodles.
Afterward, Goodman encouraged Hamilton to return next week. So he did.
“And he still didn’t want to get in the water,” Goodman says.
So Hamilton carried Goodman’s stuff again and even helped him judge the divers.
“He just helped me out,” Goodman says. “He was very happy doing that.”
The third week, Hamilton jumped into the pool. Goodman later found out from Hamilton’s mom the reason had to do with a girl.
“She said, ‘He wants to learn how to swim so he can join the swim team,’” Goodman mimics Hamilton’s mother’s explanation, “‘because there is a little girl in his class who is on the swim team, and he wants to impress her.’”
Goodman says Hamilton doesn’t remember this and is not particularly fond of the story.
But at age 9, Hamilton joined the Down East Family YMCA swim team, coached by Matt Montgomery.
When asked if the future star showed any hints of greatness, Montgomery doesn’t hesitate.
“He was terrible,” Montgomery says. “I use him as an example for parents of younger kids who get more frustrated. It’s not always about having success at a younger age.”
Montgomery says Hamilton was in tears almost every practice. One of his assistant coaches at the time, who is no longer with DEFY, once approached Montgomery to discus Hamilton.
“She’s wonderful,” Montgomery says of his former assistant. “But she said, ‘I don’t think this is going to work. Maybe swimming is not his sport.’”
Last year, Montgomery sent that same coach a note after Hamilton placed at a national championship.
“So how do you think it’s working now?” Montgomery asked her. “We laugh about it.”
Hamilton helped lead Ellsworth to its first state championship in program history on Feb. 16.
He also was the 2015 Maine Wendy’s Heisman winner. He was selected to the state and Penobscot Valley Conference All-star team four times, the PVC All-star Academic team, the State All-star Academic team, and he and was honored with the All-American Academic award.
Hamilton attributes much of his success to Goodman and Montgomery.
“They definitely work together very nicely,” Hamilton says. “I definitely love both of them as coaches. They’ve both pushed me to where I am now.”
Hamilton also excels in the classroom. He is a member of the National Honor Society and has maintained a 3.9 GPA. He says he’s going into biochemistry with a pre-med track.
“He’s focused and goal-oriented,” Goodman says. “When he accomplishes a goal, he’s cheerful, and when he doesn’t, he’s still cheerful. He just figures out what he needs to do to make that happen.”
Though Hamilton wasn’t an All-Star right away, Montgomery now sees his early struggles in a different way.
“I didn’t recognize it as a positive thing at the time,” Montgomery says of Hamilton’s pool-crying days. “But looking back, I think it maybe shows something in his character with his determination and his desire to be successful.”
Hamilton visited other schools, but he says nothing compared to Florida Southern.
“You could really tell they were a family,” Hamilton says.
He also says Florida Southern’s head coach, Mike Blum, reminded him of Montgomery.
“Just how welcoming he is. I didn’t feel really intimidated by him,” Hamilton pauses. “We’ll see how I feel when he’s actually yelling at me from the pool deck.”
Blum was recently named the College Swimming Coaches Association of America National Men’s Coach of the Year.
Hamilton says the school’s distance from home wasn’t a con and that he’s looking forward to warmer weather.
“I definitely wanted to get away,” Hamilton says. “I’ve lived in Maine my whole life. I just want to experience something different.”
But Hamilton says it won’t be easy to leave behind his teammates and coaches.
“It’s going to be hard to move on,” he says. “I want to be able to come back and say, ‘You remind me of me when I was young.’”
Swimming for DEFY, Hamilton was a three-time Short Course National Qualifier. He placed 11th in the country in the 50-yard freestyle in 2015, and 21st in the 100-yard backstroke in 2016. He has qualified three times for the Long Course Nationals and, in 2015, he placed 10th in the nation in the 50-yard freestyle.