For his fellow South Carroll High seniors, staying out late after the prom and going to the beach were among the favorite end-of-year rituals. But Dan Kesler was training for the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, so he had to sacrifice.
Kesler qualified for the trials by swimming the 1,650-yard freestyle in 15 minutes, 34 seconds, a personal record by 17 seconds, at the junior championships in March in Orlando, Fla. At the U.S. trials, which begin tomorrow in Indianapolis, Kesler will swim the 1,500-meter freestyle. His event will be competed next Tuesday, with the final the next day.
The blond, Abercrombie-clad athlete may look the part of a typical student, but a vigorous workout schedule, trips to championships and the hope of making the finals at the Olympic trials set Kesler, 17, apart.
"You have to be unique to get to that level," said Kirk Sanocki, who coached Kesler at the Green Terror Aquatic Club of Western Maryland College. "It's a very elite crowd. It's very difficult to do."
Kesler, who will be a freshman at North Carolina State this fall, likely will need a time of 15:05 or faster to make the Olympic team, Sanocki said.
Sanocki has helped push Kesler. Four mornings a week before school, Kesler swims for 1 1/2 hours and after school Monday through Friday for two hours. On Saturday and Sunday, he swims for two hours each day. Four times a week, Sanocki has Kesler do dry-land training, such as running, lifting weights and working with medicine balls.
Sanocki emphasizes mental toughness.
"Through sports, we are the teachers of the intangibles -- discipline, sacrifice and stress management," Sanocki said. Of course, this means sacrifice. Kesler, who devoted 23 hours weekly to the sport, was not able to enjoy some of the usual senior-year activities.
"I had a beach house all planned out," Kesler said. "The hardest thing I had to do was tell my friends I'm not going to senior week."
At the age of 9, Kesler was hardly a pool shark. He remembers not wanting to go to swim practice.
"My mom and dad made me sign up for summer league," he said. "They dragged me into the pool. I did not want to be there."
But the sport soon became his passion. He gave up baseball, soccer and lacrosse to pursue swimming. By the time Kesler was 15, Sanocki realized Kesler had the potential to make the junior championships in the 1,650 freestyle.
Kesler qualified for the 1998 junior championships in Charlotte, N.C., where his times in the 1,000-yard and 500-yard freestyle made him eligible for the 1999 junior championships in St. Louis.
At the junior championships, he finished seventh in the 500-yard freestyle (4:31.87), third in the 1,000 (9:18.34) and ninth in the 1,650 (15:51.46). His time in the 1,000 allowed him to compete in the senior nationals.
In March at the junior championships in Orlando, Kesler said, he was worried after not doing well at the warm-ups, but he persevered during the finals.
"I'm just going to do it; I don't care how bad it hurts. I was just going to do it," Kesler remembers saying to himself before the swim that put him into the Olympic trials.
Regardless what happens in Indianapolis, Kesler won't have to worry about selecting a college. Kesler turned down letters from Stanford, Cornell and Auburn after visiting North Carolina State on a recruiting trip. He chose the Raleighschool because he liked the atmosphere, the people and the sunny climate.
Sanocki believes the experience will be valuable, and that Kesler will have a better chance to compete in the 2004 Olympics.
"My feeling is he can go for a lifetime best," Sanocki said. "Either way, I'd be extremely happy for him."