Wheeler gets in fast lane McDonogh: Junior Mike Wheeler's size -- he's 6 feet 4, 190 pounds -- and determination have made him into a national-caliber swimmer.

January 18, 1998|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

At 6 feet 4, 190 pounds, Mike Wheeler's physical stature has been the source of several nicknames from friends. "Gigantor" is one. "Sasquatch" and "Bigfoot," both references to his size-14 shoes, are others.

But those same attributes are Wheeler's strength in the water, where the powerfully constructed swimmer has earned accolades locally and nationally.

"Being big helps because my long arms and big feet help to pull me through the water. My size gives me an advantage over those who are smaller," said Wheeler, a 17-year-old junior who also sings in the school choir, is a few steps from achieving Eagle Scout honors and is a regular on McDonogh's honor roll.

Wheeler, a Lisbon resident, has been swimming since age 12, starting at the Howard County YMCA -- a rather late start for a swimmer of his caliber.

"My recent success has only come in the last two or three years," said Wheeler, who played basketball, soccer and baseball on the recreation levels before a summer nanny began taking him to the pool with her children.

"When we went to the pool, I played cards mostly, but solitaire got boring," Wheeler said. "So I decided to get into the pool."

Wheeler established two school records in a meet against Spalding last week in the 200 individual medley (1 minute, 57 seconds) and the 100 free (48.09 seconds). Wheeler also holds individual school records in the 200 and 500 frees, the 100 backstroke and as a member of the 200 medley and 400 free relay teams.

And in a rout at Calvert Hall last week, Wheeler was first in the 100 back and 100 fly to help McDonogh improve to 4-0 on the season -- 3-0 against Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association competition.

Wheeler's swimming skills have carried over into water polo as well, where he earned All-Eastern Region honors for helping McDonogh to a 20-3 record and the Eastern Prep School championship.

In the summer national swimming championships in Nashville, Tenn., Wheeler, competing alongside former and present Olympians, was 13th in the 800-meter freestyle event. His clocking of 8 minutes, 17.43 seconds earned him a spot on the 18-member, 17-and-under national junior team that will compete in Sheffield, England, May 18-23.

"France, Germany, pretty much all of Europe will be sending teams there. Michael's the only one going from Maryland. He'll be swimming the 800 meters and two other events, probably the 200 and 400 frees," said McDonogh coach Scott Ward.

Wheeler will first compete in the U.S. Nationals, April 1-5, in Minneapolis -- called the spring nationals -- which is the selection event for the July-August Goodwill Games. In that competition, he'll likely swim the 400, 800 and 1,500 frees.

Good performances over the next eight months could lead to future opportunities in events such as the Goodwill, Pan-Pacific, Pan-American or even -- farther down the road -- the Olympic games, Ward said.

"Those events are used to determine which venues swimmers are best suited for," said Ward. "Michael has a legitimate chance at making the Goodwill Games, and he's a a strong candidate for the 2000 [Olympic] trials."

As a sophomore, Wheeler was an All-American in the 500 free, finishing second at the Eastern Championships for a fifth-place national ranking. His effort was the highest among the nation's sophomores, and he also earned honorable mention All-American honors in the 200 free, placing 22nd.

"He has several state records in distance events, and he's one of the top guys I've seen around here in a while," said Sean Hutchison, coach of the Eagles, Wheeler's McDonogh-based, year-round club team.

"I'd compare him to Beau Wiebel, out of Frederick, who made the NCAA finals and was an All-American as a freshman swimming at Georgia. Mike can reach that level -- of course, there's always room for improvement."

Pub Date: 1/18/98

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