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Senior Spotlight: Hayden Norling won't let anything slow him down

by DYLAN GREENE
Sports Editor | June 9, 2021 1:00 AM

Editor’s note: This is a series dedicated to highlighting local senior athletes.

SANDPOINT — Over the course of his high school career, the pool became Hayden Norling’s second home. But it wasn’t always that way.

The SHS senior grew up in Columbia, Maryland, and it was there he started swimming recreationally at a young age. Eventually, Hayden decided to try out for a competitive swim team. While his younger brother, Caleb, made the squad, Hayden didn’t — he was told he wasn’t good enough.

But Hayden didn’t let the rejection get him down. He used it as motivation.

At 10 years old, Hayden and his family moved to North Idaho and he quickly found his way on the Sandpoint Sharks club swim team.

Once Hayden reached high school, swimming became a passion. He was driven to reach his full potential in the pool and the rejection from that team in Maryland helped fuel his fire. However, Hayden moved past that hardship and the sport turned into something he did to better himself.

That perseverance and determination is something that Hayden carries with him in all aspects of his life.

Over the last few years, Barry Johnson has witnessed those traits firsthand. Johnson is a retired pastor from New Song Bible Church in Sagle, and holds a weekly bible study group for young men of which Hayden is a member.

Johnson said Hayden has become a mentor to the rest of the group with a natural ability to lead others.

“He’s a kid you can trust and I would trust him with just about anything,” he said.

Those leadership skills also took shape on the high school swim team. As a team captain, Hayden helped the SHS boys capture fourth at state in 2019 and second in 2020. That second-place trophy this past fall was also the boys highest finish at state since the Idaho High School Activities Association began sanctioning a state swim tournament three years ago.

That accomplishment is something Hayden will never forget.

“It was a great feeling,” he said. “As far as I know, it’s the best performance from the boys ever. It was really cool because it was with people I’ve known for the past four years and we’ve all been swimming together.”

Hayden, who taught himself how to play bass guitar, also played a big role in a fourth-place state trophy for the boys as a sophomore. He placed second in the 500 freestyle and third in the 200 free. This year, he was fourth in the 200 free and sixth in the 100 breaststroke.

Clearly, Hayden made quite the splash during his time as a Bulldog.

Hayden tried other sports growing up, such as track, cross country and soccer, but none of them were like swimming. The water was where he belonged and Hayden credited the friendships he built through the sport for keeping him in it for so long.

Hayden said he spent countless hours with his teammates outside of practice and he will always cherish the memories they made outside of the water.

Johnson said Hayden constantly goes out of his way to help others and make a strong connection with them.

“He has a lot of empathy for people that’s not just talk, he seems to feel some of their pain,” he said.

This year, Hayden and some of his close friends started an Ultimate Frisbee Club at SHS. The club became official in January and the idea came to a fruition in part due to COVID-19 restrictions. A fellow student also suggested to Hayden that he start a club, so he made it happen.

It took quite a bit of effort to get it going, but once Principal David Miles caught wind of what was happening, he got involved and is now the coach of the Sandpoint Scorpion Ultimate Frisbee Club.

This summer, Hayden will serve as the head lifeguard at Sandpoint City Beach before he heads off to the University of Idaho. He received an ROTC scholarship and will study computer science with an emphasis in cyber security. After that he plans on joining the Military Intelligence Corps, a branch in the U.S. Army. Both of his parents were also involved in military intelligence, so it runs in the family.

Johnson said Hayden is mature beyond his years, carries a positive attitude with him wherever he goes and is extremely likable.

“When people want to know something, they go to Hayden,” he said.

Hayden looks to Johnson as a role model and he even developed a nickname for him that everyone else in the study group has picked up.

Johnson said his relationship with Hayden is one built on admiration and he can’t wait to see what he does in the future. He added that Hayden’s commitment to his faith is unwavering and he knows the soon-to-be SHS graduate won’t shy away from taking action and blazing his own path.

“He’s an encouragement to me that there’s still great hope for the next generation,” he said. “I think he’ll be successful because he’s not afraid to ask the real questions and deal with the real answers.”