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ST. PETERSBURG — For two hours a day, Calvin Bryant’s arms are in perpetual motion. He digs furiously through the water, splashing as he turns lap after lap in the pool.
There is no sight of the brace he wears the other 22 hours.
“The water is probably the one place where I’m not really constricted,” Bryant said.
Bryant, a junior at Osceola, has scoliosis, a spinal curvature that requires him to use the brace. Swimming, though, is not a therapeutic endeavor. The moment he enters the water, Bryant can feel his back tighten up. Sometimes, when he swims too far, too intensely, the pain becomes too much.
“I would say it’s more of an irritant than anything else,” Bryant said. “I’ll usually feel a little tightness in my back in the first 25 yards, kind of like a knot. But if I really push it hard, I won’t be able to swim for a week. I remember I raced in a dual meet last year against Palm Harbor University and I was unable to swim for four days after that.
“Still, it’s fun. I just have to push through it.”
Bryant is not just swimming any event. His speciality is distance races, particularly the 500 freestyle, a chlorinated marathon that can take its toll. Because he needs to keep his back straight as much as possible in the water, Bryant loses precious time on turns. Still, he makes up for it with single-mindedness and boundless energy.
Last year, Bryant finished eighth in the 500 free at the Class 2A state meet. He is among the favorites to win the event at the Pinellas County Athletic Conference meet Saturday at the Long Center.
“I definitely think I can go out and win,” Bryant said.
Swimming has always been Bryant’s preferred sport. He started 11 years ago, but it was not until high school that he began to take swimming seriously.
“I remember Calvin telling me some of his times in meets,” said Fred Lewis, who coaches Bryant with the St. Petersburg Aquatics. “At first I didn’t believe them. Then I watched him at a conference meet, and I saw firsthand how fast he could go. That’s when I knew he was going to be pretty good.”
It wasn’t until last year, when Bryant had a physical, that he was diagnosed with scoliosis.
“I really had no problems before that with my back,” Bryant said. “But I did start to notice the pain more after that. It’s not really there when I have the brace on. It’s more when I’m in the water.”
But that has not been enough for Bryant to give up swimming. He has designs on winning conference, as well as district and region titles. He also wants to improve upon his performance at state.
Then there is the ultimate goal.
“I’d love to swim in Rio in four years,” Bryant said.
He already is close to making the Olympic trials. This year, Bryant missed the trial cut in the 1500 meters by 0.82 of a second.
“Normally you see more girls at the high school level who make trial cuts,” Lewis said. “It’s rare to high schools boys get those times, especially someone Calvin’s age. It’s awfully impressive what he’s been able to accomplish so far.”
Tampa Bay Classic
When/where: Saturday, North Shore Pool, St. Petersburg
Schedule: Swimming starts at 8:30 a.m. The finals are at 5 p.m.
Teams: Academy at the Lakes, Admiral Farragut, Bayshore Christian, Berkeley Prep, Boca Raton St. Andrews, Bradenton Christian, Bradenton St. Stephens, Calvary Christian, Canterbury, Clearwater Central Catholic, Indian Rocks Christian, Jacksonville Episcopal, Keswick Christian, Northside Christian, Odessa Christian, Seffner Christian, Shorecrest, St. Petersburg Catholic, Sarasota Cardinal Mooney, Tampa Catholic, Tampa Prep, Winter Park Trinity Prep
Outlook: This meet serves as the Tampa Bay Classic and Bay Conference meet. Shorecrest’s boys have a good chance to place in the top three in both.
When/where: Saturday, Long Center, Clearwater
Schedule: Swimming starts at 8 a.m.; finals are at 5 p.m.
Teams: Boca Ciega, Clearwater, Countryside, Dixie Hollins, Dunedin, East Lake, Gibbs, Lakewood, Largo, Northeast, Osceola, Palm Harbor University, Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg, Seminole, Tarpon Springs.
Outlook: PHU boys and girls have the depth to repeat as champions, but East Lake’s girls could have the most individual champions. Countryside’s boys also could fare well.