At 15, swimmer Reece Whitley earned a rare accolade. A handful of other young swimmers are breaking records and inspiring predictions of Olympic glory. But how many get a congratulatory Tweet from First Lady Michelle Obama?
Whitely is expected to become the next great swimming star in the United States. In fact, he was named Sports Illustrated’s 2015 Sports Kid of the Year. This achievement is reserved for young athletes who excel both in and out of their sport, according to Mark Bechtel, Managing Editor of Sports Illustrated Kids. Reece certain fits that bill.
This future star has an unexpected humbleness about him. According to Bechtel, you would never guess he was an elite world-class athlete by the way he acts. He’s friendly with his peers, and he makes time for his schoolwork and to mentor children who look up to him.
A Failure Ignites Success
The 6-foot-8-inch, 235-pound teen from Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania, was born on January 3, 2000, to a pediatrician and an ear, nose, and throat surgeon.
At age seven, Reece decided he could take the deep-water swimming test while at a charter-school summer camp. His friends were doing it, and he was quite certain he could too. After he failed miserably, his mom signed him up for swimming lessons.
Although he also excelled at baseball and basketball, swimming emerged soon as his natural talent.
Working with Coach Crystal
Crystal Keelan has coached Whitley since he was an 11-year-old, initially in private weekend lessons. The following year, she started coaching the teams at Penn Charter School and Penn Charter Aquatic Club, and Reece followed.
Coach Keelan reports that Reece is a dedicated swimmer who loves coming to practice. He trains in the pool for two hours each day after school and lifts weights three mornings a week.
She says he never stops trying to improve and values constructive feedback; he recognizes both his strengths and weaknesses.
The Beginnings of an Impressive Record
At the 2015 Speedo Junior National Championships Long Course, Reece took first place with his time of 2:12.17 for the 200-meter breaststroke.
He stuck around for the Senior Nationals, and while he didn’t earn a medal, he did tie with Michael Phelps – a significant achievement for the then-15-year-old!
At the Eastern Interscholastically Swimming Championships, Whitley won the 100 breaststroke and 200 IM; he placed second in the 50 freestyle.
He is expected to be one of the most sought after breaststroke recruits for the high school class of 2018.
Breaking Records and Barriers
Reece holds five national age group records, and last year, he’d already qualified for this year’s Olympic trials with his impressive times for the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke. However, he is breaking more than records.
As an African-American, he hopes to play a key role in promoting swimming in communities of color. According to the USA Swimming Foundation, as many as 70 percent of African-American children do not know how to swim.
Reece’s Keys to Success
Reece reports that he sets clear goals for himself and enjoys tracking his progress. He said his best accomplishments are seeing his times drop.
After several major competitions, he has learned to not let competing get in his head. Even though he is in front of large crowds with tough competitors, he learned the hard way that he needs to focus solely on his performance to have the best chance at succeeding.
Although swimming is considered a solo sport, Reece is a committed team player. He says that his team members cry with him, support him, and train with him, and vice versa.
The Road to Rio
Whitley realizes his Olympic goals are huge, especially this year, when his age positions him as an underdog. However, he stresses that goals should require work to be achieved.
Although his road to Rio is still paved with some uncertainty, observers agree that Reece is one to be watched, for 2016 and for Tokyo 2020: Our most promising breaststroker has major potential to break barriers.