He is already awake for three minutes before he hears the first F power chord of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which wakes him before every morning swim at either 4:55 or 5:15, depending on whether the practice was at Haverford or North Penn. The I, IV, flat III flat VI chord progression of the song is an odd one, but so is the progression of Jack Deppen’s day.
It’s Tuesday, so practice is at Haverford. Before Jack goes downstairs at 5:03, he grabs an old button down shirt, khaki pants, and one of seven ties that has remained tied for the last three years. Once downstairs, he grabs a banana and a bottle of water. He turns off the house alarm, starts his 2012 Infiniti g25, climbs in, and drives off to his first practice of the day.
Haverford’s morning practice is run by a man who goes by the name of Jones. Mr. Brendan Jones is already in the pool when Deppen arrives, but quickly gets out of the pool, and changes into a stained undershirt. He peruses the pool in the tank with a towel around his waist and watches Jack swim, critiquing his form where he can, which is not often. It’s the off season, so it’s just Jack and Jones.
“Jack’s commitment and work ethic to getting better every day is ingrained. He has helped raise the level of training for Haverford’s swim team and the future of the program. This will ensure his success at Penn State for the next four years,” Mr. Jones says.
The practice comes to a close. Jack has now finished his second practice of the week. six to go. In a normal year, Jack would go to ten practices a week. “I normally go to four mornings, and six after school. I like to take Sundays off. COVID has really messed things up, but a few mornings off isn’t the worst thing,” Deppen says.
Returning to his Infinity, Jack and his still-wet, chlorine damaged hair make the daily drive to Wawa for a Sizli, Reign Energy drink, and chocolate milk.
“I saw an advertisement with Al Horford saying he recovers with chocolate milk. I figured if he does it, it can’t hurt,” Deppen says.
“So much of what is impressive about him is how he works for what he achieves, not what he achieves.”Grayson Walker ’21
The results speak for themselves, whether they can be credited to chocolate milk or not. Jack is now the 19th best swimmer in Pennsylvania. He swims the 200-yard free in 1:40.32, and the 100-yard free in 47.01 seconds. As impressive as these times are, they do not tell Jack’s full story.
“It is hard to put Dep into numbers,” his friend and teammate Grayson Walker ’21 says. “So much of what is impressive about him is how he works for what he achieves, not what he achieves.”
Walker has spent the last four years as one of Deppen’s closest friends. He not only swam with Deppen, but played on the Water Polo Team with him as well. “He is a guy who just won’t give up. I would call him a grinder. He is always at the pool. If you text him to hang out he will say yes, but he needs to be home because he has to swim at five a.m.. Outside of the pool he’s a great dude,” Walker says. “He is just a guy who will have your back.”
Deppen not only excels in the pool. After his morning practice he throws on that pre-tied tie and joins the mass of students expected to devote themselves to their studies.
“Balancing school and swimming definitely isn’t easy, but I try to embrace the challenge. Normally, I would take advantage of my free periods to get as much work done as possible, but this year, without the frees I’ve normally had, it’s been a little bit harder and a lot of late nights. Trying to balance school, sleep, and swimming is not easy, and is something I’m still trying to perfect,” Deppen says.
After school, Deppen returns to his Infinity, in which he drives to the Valley Forge Military Academy for his second practice of the day, and third of the week. The air in the Natatorium is hard to breathe. Clearly the pool manager has not been keeping up with the chemicals in the pool, but Jack is used to it.
With this practice finished at 6:04 p.m., and only five to go, Jack and his Infinity retire to North Wales for dinner, homework, and an early sleep.
Jack is an only child. He sits as a round wood table for dinner, with his mother Holly on his left and his father Blain on his right. Chicken and noodles are dinner tonight.
He drifts off, ready to tackle the next day, and to keep quietly excelling.Gabe Gowen ’21
At dinner, Mr. Deppen and Jack catch up on sports. It’s usually about the Sixers or the Eagles, but right now it’s all about March Madness. Mrs. Deppen drills him on his homework. “She’ll ask me five times if it’s all done, and continue to ask me if there is anything else I can get ahead on,” Deppen says.
It is now 9:17, so Jack starts to make his way towards bed. He lies under a poster of Kurt Cobain smoking a cigarette, holding an acoustic guitar. On the other side of the room are posters of Travis Scott and Sublime. He drifts off, ready to tackle the next day, and to keep quietly excelling.
“He is the hardest worker I know,” Walker says.