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Reich's top secret: Dedication

John Reich didn't have to battle with the emotional and social problems many 15-year-olds have to deal with during their first year of high school. The young state champion and nationally ranked swimmer resolved many social problems by combining his sport with his social life about six years ago.

Reich spends five to six hours a day, six days a week with more than 100 of his teammates and friends on the Brandon Swim and Tennis Club Blue Wave youth swim team.

He has been part of the team since he was 9.

Last year he won the Junior Olympic state championships in the 200-meter breaststroke and the 500-meter freestyle while swimming against 13-14-year-olds.

This past August he placed second in the U.S. Junior Nationals for boys age 15 in both the 800- and 1,500-meter freestyle. In the same meet, in events for boys 18-and-under, he was fourth in the nation in the 800 and sixth in the 1,500.

Next year he hopes to place in the Senior Nationals.

"Swimming is the major thing in my life and I just don't concern myself about being with someone at a football game or any other event in high school," said Reich.

"My friends on the Blue Wave like the same things I do and we have each other. Academics are very important, though. I make As and Bs and hope to take honors courses next year. But I am dedicated to my sport and my friends on the team are, too. We all work and play together."

Reich was one of only about a dozen youngsters on the Blue Wave when Peter Banks took the coaching reins almost four years ago. The team now numbers about 150 and is contending for national honors.

Most of the state and national champions from the Blue Wave have been from the powerful girls squad, but Reich and a few of the other boys have been working hard to add to the honors.

As a distance freestyler, he swims about 1,800 miles a year in training.

He joins teammates from 5:30-7:30 a.m. each school day morning before attending his first class as a sophomore at Bloomingdale. Then after class he is back in the pool from 5 to 7 p.m.

Saturdays he sleeps in; he doesn't report for training until 8 a.m. for a three-hour or longer session.

Except for three weeks off after the Junior Nationals in August and three days off for Christmas, Reich and his teammates keep to their hectic schedule all year long.

There is a reason for their dedication to an amateur sport with no professional hopes. They dream of being Olympians and believe college competition is a realistic part of their future.

"John's goal and mine is for him to make the Olympic trials in 1996," said Banks. "He definitely has the ability, mindset and determination to make that goal.

"John doesn't have the natural ability of some swimmers, but he makes up for that with his work ethic. Whatever he has to do to achieve a goal, he does.

"He didn't earn any success until he was 13, which is rather late for many very good swimmers. That was good because it taught him how to overcome more talented swimmers by personal hard work. He remembers that and success has not gone to his head. At the same time, a loss does not destroy him. He just figures out what he has to do to win the next time and does it."

In spite of his individual state and national success, Reich is a team player.

"We are a proud team," said Reich. "Before Peter Banks became our coach we were basically nothing but a small group of kids who swam. Now we are recognized in national meets and as our boys catch up with our girls, we will beat Jacksonville Bolles Swimming Academy for the state title.

"We encourage one another not to slack off under any circumstance. Much of our strongest competition now in many meets is against each other. That team competition is good for us, because it is pursued every day in practice. But we are still the best of friends out of the water."

In three years, when he graduates from high school, Reich hopes to earn a scholarship to a major university with a good swimming program. His preference is Stanford in California.

He also is working to be one of the swimmers representing his country in the 1996 Olympics.

"The John Reichs of this world give me a lot of satisfaction," said Banks. "He has to work extra hard to earn everything he gets, but whatever he has to do he does it. Often, when many teens are out socializing on Friday and Saturday nights, he is in the pool sometimes 9-10 o'clock at night training. What he lacks in natural talent he more than makes up for with determination."

To report sports news and information in the Brandon area write to Around Brandon, c/o Terry Jones, St. Petersburg Times Sports, 723 W Lumsden Road, Brandon, FL 33511, or call 226-3394.