CANTON - I consider myself very fortunate.
I have a job that allows me to chronicle the accomplishments of athletes and teams in the area that I grew up.
During the course of my nearly 16-year career here at The Times Leader, I've covered team and individual state champions in a variety of sports.
I added a state championship event to my list on Friday at the OHSAA State Swimming Championship in Canton, covering St. Clairsville senior Michael Eaton in the 100 breaststroke and 100 freestyle.
I know in this business you're not supposed to root, but how could anyone in the Ohio Valley not have been pulling for Michael Eaton this weekend?
The St. Clairsville senior is a model student-athlete and person.
On top of the kind of person he is, he was aiming to do something that no one from our area, which is often times disrespected in prep sports, had ever done.
Yes, Eaton came up short, by one place, of making the ultimate history.
But, when you consider prior to Eaton, only one male (Martins Ferry foreign exchange student Markus Seivers) from a Belmont County school had placed in the state swimming swimming championship, there's plenty of reasons to be proud.
Because of his accomplishments, Eaton has left a lasting mark on Ohio Valley swimming because he's put it on the map at the state level.
As he heads toward graduation this spring and onto a collegiate swimming career at a school still yet to be determined, Eaton is hopeful the upward trend in Ohio Valley swimming continues.
"I hope people look at my success and maybe it will inspire them to do as I did and push themselves hard to do well," Eaton said. "I don't mean just in the pool, either. I mean in other things, too."
Like many talented athletes, Eaton was blessed with some natural ability. However, he's continually worked and worked and worked toward honing his stroke. As many quick-twitch muscles as he might have, Eaton wasn't blessed with the ideal swimmer's frame seeing that he stands just 5-7 on a good day.
Did it stop him from chasing the dream? Absolutely not! He just knew he had to work that much harder.
"I just want kids to see that if you work hard in anything you do, you can be successful," Eaton said. "I was not the biggest guy (in the pool) by any means and to know I competed with and beat guys who are much bigger proves anything can be done with hardwork."
Many years ago, Eaton was one of the premier swimmers in the summer youth swimming program, starting at Allen Pool in Memorial Park. He grew up aspiring to do well in the sport.
Now, as the summer swimming season is just a few months away, there are kids probably all over the Ohio Valley hoping to one day to be the next Michael Eaton.
All Eaton - who will most certainly one day receive notification of his induction to both the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference and St. Clairsville Athletic Halls of Fame - could do was blush when he paused to think about that.
"The fact that I am possibly setting the path for other kids is just awesome to even think about," Eaton confessed. "I worked as hard as I could to get to this point. I appreciate all of the support of my family, the school, my friends."
Some college swimming program is going to be thanking its lucky stars when Eaton finally makes his decision and signs his National Letter of Intent.
Again, I've been fortunate to cover many exceptional athletes and people.
And, I can say without hesitation, that Michael Eaton ranks right up near the top in both categories.
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org