Siblings, parents, grandparents … it seems every Fisher loves to swim. GHS students Josh and Chris Fisher are the latest family members to live in the pool, and theirs is a story of success.
It’s a cold, dark winter morning and Gilbert High School students and brothers Josh and Chris Fisher are out of bed and starting their day long before their peers. Their dad, Joe, has left the warmth of his bed too before the clock strikes 5 a.m., and as he ventures into the living room he sees his sons are waiting for him to leave.
This is what the Fisher family business is all about. It’s about passion, not profit. And for them, trekking to the Dan Flannery Pool at Ames High long before the sun has even peaked its head over the horizon is a gift, not something to grumble about.
“I like to say to people that it’s a lifestyle,” Joe Fisher, who doubles as dad and head coach of the Ames boys’ swim team, says. “It’s early mornings, late nights … nobody knows about the 10 workouts a week.”
The work ethic, the dedication, it’s paid off. Later this week, as members of the Ames High team, Joe will take his two sons and a handful of their teammates to Iowa City for the state meet where the Little Cyclones have their sights set on a top-three trophy. Josh and Chris will both swim in four events. Josh, a junior at GHS, will have 11 state-qualifying events under his belt by Saturday evening, while Chris, a sophomore, will sit with six.
That’s where they are in the present. But to understand how they got there, you first need to travel back in time a few generations.
The Family Business
Joe wasn’t the first Fisher to get bitten by the swimming bug. That distinction actually goes to his mom, Deb, who grew up in Chariton. Fun fact: Deb learned the butterfly stroke at a camp run by swimmers from the University of Iowa, which just happened to be the home of coach David Armbruster, who is credited with helping to perfect the stroke in the 1930s.
Joe and his siblings grew up in the pool and were all talented swimmers at Ames High. Joe was a state champion and later swam collegiately at Iowa State.
Soon enough, the cycle started over once again with his own children. Lauren Fisher, a 2022 Gilbert graduate, now swims at Minnesota State, and younger brother, Ryan, an eighth grader at Gilbert Middle School, will follow his brothers into the high school pool a year from now.
“Our kids played all of the sports when they were little and they enjoyed them, but they really took off with swimming and really had a lot of fun,” Joe says. “When they were younger, I liked to joke that I didn’t know I was addicted to the smell of chlorine. When they started getting into swimming, I hadn’t been around it for so long, but I would just sit and watch practice because I love to watch kids swim so much. That’s how I ended up getting into coaching.”
Josh and Chris love every aspect of swimming, but when they hone in on one thing, you quickly realize they’re no different than any other prolific athlete. It’s the competition that gets their adrenaline pumping, and the losses linger in their memories for a lot longer than the successes.
“For me it’s the competitiveness of it,” Josh, who will compete at state individually in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle, as well as the 200 and 400 freestyle relays, said. “All through the years, it’s just built and built. A lot of people at school don’t really see it, but when I’m in the water I can get really competitive. I just hate to lose. I still do lose to some people and that drives me even more.”
Chris nods his head as his older brother speaks and offers a similar story.
“It’s the competitiveness, and it’s just always been super fun for me,” Chris, who will swim in the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke, as well as on the 200 and 400 free relays with his brother, said. “Not doing swimming just doesn’t sound right to me. I want to see myself win and I want to see my team do well.”
Joe sees similar characteristics in both of his boys, but there are some differences as well. Josh is a student of the sport; always analyzing, and never afraid. There’s a reason he anchors the relays; he’s not afraid to lay it all on the line and he refuses to shy away from a challenge. Chris is cerebral as well and he sees a win for his team as a win for himself.
“Josh is the kid that has the goals (written) on the mirror and he sees them every day when he wakes up,” Joe says. “And when he reaches one, he changes it immediately. He’s crazy when he trains because he brings it every day.
“Chris is just extremely gifted. Like his brother, it’s never quite good enough, and when you get him into a relay, that’s the pressure he lives for.”
To read Joe’s words is one thing. To hear him speak about his sons, the pride pours out with every syllable.
The brothers are competitive with each other as well, but Chris defers to his brother when the topic of who is better swimmer bubbles to the surface. However, Josh is quick to point out that his younger sibling continues to close the gap day by day.
“Earlier this season, we swam a 200 IM against each other and I smoked him by like three seconds,” Josh says. “But he went a lifetime’s best! That’s what drove him and that was great. The downside is that when one of us loses, it doesn’t really go well.”
Josh won district titles in the 200 and 500 free a week ago, and he enters the state meet seeded sixth and seventh, respectively, in the two events. Chris was a district runner-up in the 200 IM and heads to state seeded 14th. He’s the No. 22 seed in the 100 back.
Ames has the third-fastest qualifying time in the 400 free relay and it sits 12th in the 200 free.
What does all of this mean? For starters, it means the brothers are both thinking about state medals. With 32 qualifiers in the individual events, the top eight times in the prelims will advance to the A final. The next eight will advance to the B final.
“In the prelims, I just want to make it back to the A final,” Josh, who was seventh at state in the 200 and 500 free a year ago, said. “In the finals, a dream would be the top three in both of my events. As a team, we want to get third, that’s the big goal we’ve had all season.”
As an underclassmen, Chris is a bit further down the qualifying leaderboard in his individual events, but he has his own lofty goals.
“Last year I placed 32nd in the 200 IM and this year I’m hoping to make it to the B final,” he says. “A big stretch is the A final. The backstroke, I didn’t swim it last year, but I hope I can get into the B final.”
And when the state meet is over, the Fisher boys will take a short break – a very short break – before they get back at it with their club season. Another fun fact: they swim for the Ames Cyclone Aquatics Club (ACAC), which just so happened to be formed in the living room of Joe’s parents some years ago.
The club season runs from March through July, and again from September to November leading up to the start of the high school season.
This is what they do. This is what they enjoy. This is the family business. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Everything we live, eat and think is swimming,” Josh says with a grin. “But the big thing with it is we’ve always had fun with it. It’s what we love.”
And with their talents and successes, it’s obvious that swimming loves them right back.