ST. PETERSBURG ó Rather than come home to a house full of sniffling, sneezing siblings, Ethan Long decided to stay with his grandmother this week.
"I canít afford to be sick," said Long, a Lakewood High senior.
At last yearís Class 2A state meet, Long did not feel well finished second in both the 100-yard freestyle and 200 free, missing out on what has been a pair of elusive state titles.
He came home with a 104-degree fever.
Illnesses at big meets have become a common problem for the Longs. Two years ago, Ethanís older brother Jonathan swam the state finals with mononucleosis. Jonathan was cleared by doctors to participate but ended up finishing fifth in the 50 free and sixth in the 100 free.
Ethan did not want to suffer the same fate. In March, he had surgery on his nose to repair a deviated septum (septoplasty).
Now healthy, Ethan has performed well, winning conference, district and region titles.
Still, there are a pair of titles left.
"The focus all year has been to get to states ó and win," Ethan said.
If Ethan finishes first in either event at the 2A state meet today in Stuart, he will become the first from his family to win a state title and the first boys swimmer from Lakewood to win since 1993.
The brothers grew up playing baseball before gravitating toward swimming about 12 years ago. Their mother, Dawn, was a former standout with the Spartans.
Ethan and Jonathan spent as much time as possible at North Shore Pool, where they executed carefully conceived workouts. The time invested in the water helped them become faster swimmers.
Then Ethan wanted to try a different approach.
Two years ago, he switched club teams, going from St. Petersburg Aquatics to Tampaís Academy Aquatic Club run by Jesuit/Academy of the Holy Names coach Bill Shaffer.
"Bill has taught me a lot," Ethan said.
The daily commutes to Tampa are scheduled around schoolwork.
Much like his older brother, Ethan is homeschooled. He is able to swim for Lakewood because it is his zoned school.
Only a decade ago, homeschooled athletes did not have many options on public school teams. They could play on club teams, but their athletic endeavors were considered little more than organized recess for kids without traditional classrooms.
Now homeschooled athletes have as many college opportunities as their public school teammates.
Ethan is taking dual-enrollment courses at St. Petersburg College. He already has decided where to swim in college with his commitment to Gardner-Webb last month.
That allowed him to focus on his high school season.
For a while, even that was in jeopardy.
The Spartans had trouble finding a coach. Girls basketball coach Necole Tunsil volunteered to take over the program.
"Iím real thankful for Necole for stepping in," Ethan said. "Without her, I probably wouldnít be swimming high school and competing for a state title because I donít think we would have had a team."
Once Tunsil watched Ethan compete, she became his biggest fan.
"Ethan is amazing," Tunsil said earlier this season. "He comes off the blocks and he is underwater for almost the length of the pool, and when he comes up for air he already is ahead of everyone.
"Iím going to get Michael Phelps on the phone and have him race Ethan. My money is on Ethan. I love Ethan Long. I might even have a shirt made that says that."