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How I Became a Competitive Swimmer

Sports have always been a major part of my life. Starting before I was born, my father was a high school tennis player, who moved over to basketball and played at Lincoln University. I was born when my dad was around 25, and he was still deep in the basketball world. One of his first jobs was head coach of Beaver College’s (now Arcadia University) basketball team. Some of my early memories as a toddler are playing in the gym during his basketball practices, accompanying the team to games and dinners, and running around the “Castle” (the school’s administration building literally looked like a castle).
Other than going to swim lessons at about age 5, I don’t remember being active in any organized sports until about the 5th grade. We had just moved to our new neighborhood. I remember being a part of a church youth group, where we played a lot of pool and also low-ceiling, inside a church basement basketball. My mom eventually told me to try out for the basketball team. I remember being very nervous as the youngest person there and making a fool of myself when I got in the tryout game – getting the ball and scoring on the wrong end of the court. I quit basketball that day.
5th grade started, and I decided I would play soccer. Why? No clue. I had never played before. And no one I knew had ever played soccer. But guess what, I made the team. I remember playing fullback and being told, “all you have to do is kick the ball as far up the field as possible when it comes to you.”
I played on my school’s soccer team during the 5th and 6th grades. In the summers, I attended different fitness and sports camps. Tennis would creep back in as a sport I played alot for a couple summers between 5 and 7th grades. During the 6th and 7th grades, basketball crept back in. 6th grade would be my last time on a soccer team. I was a short chubby kid around this time in my life, maybe my parents were trying to work the weight off of me.
Basketball became my main sport – outside of school. I think this had a lot to do with my new neighborhood. I was starting to make more friends and venture out beyond my block. Three blocks away was the closest set of full courts. As black boy growing up in the hood, you had better be able to handle yourself on the basketball court if you wanted to be respected.
Through “practice” –  playing “crateball” and at the playground, games with friends (before the older teenagers and 20-somethings took over the court), and with my dad (early mornings in the summer); I became pretty good on the court. Great memories playing on Kenderton’s courts, all around philly, and pick up games up and down the east coast traveling with my dad. After I was worthy, he even stepped on the court to play on teams with me (before he got too old).
This story is supposed to be about swimming, and as you can see, we are nearing my teenage years and the last time I spoke about swimming was at about age 5 for swim lessons. Sorry, I had to set the stage. You may or may not know that most competitive swimmers start to focus on swimming (and only on swimming – year-round) at about age 5, not at 11-12 ish when I did.
One day, I’m riding with my mom and sister as we drive home from one of her swimming lessons. My mom says to my sister (who’s about 4 or 5), “Tyree is playing a lot of sports, what sport would you like to play?” She responds, I want to be on the swim team. Well… isn’t that a novel idea? The swim team? Never thought of that. Didn’t even know that was an option. Hmmm… I want to be on the swim team too!
I was now on the “famous” PDR Swim Team. And so began my lessons in humility…
Day one: I walk out of the locker room to lane 6 (the slow lane). Everyone my age is practicing in lanes 1-4 and I’m over here with the 4 to 8 year olds. Now, it’s time for me to jump in the water, but I was scared to take off my shirt.
The first few months were rough. I never knew about this level of tiredness. I continued to play basketball while “becoming” a swimmer. Swimming would actually begin to help me become a better basketball player since I was quickly building up endurance, getting stronger, and losing weight.
7th grade came around. Which sports would I play at school now? Tough luck, swimming and basketball are both winter sports. You cannot be on both school teams at the same time. I had to make a choice. At school, I joined the swim team, but continued to play ball – and swim – outside of school. I made good progress in both sports through the 9th grade.
I was accepted into Masterman and Central High School – respectively the #1 and #2 academic high schools in Philly. My decision to go to Central was based on athletics. I now had a goal to be a college athlete and Central, with the largest public school sports program in the city would be a better environment for my goals.
9th grade is here. Close to crunch time. As a serious potential NCAA athlete, college recruiting would be over by the mid 11th grade. With my two sports taking place during the same season. I would have to make a decision to focus on one sport and give up the other.
Something in me always goes with the road less traveled.
Obviously swimming won. My new core group of friends were my PDR teammates. And my coach and other former PDR members also went to Central and were the catalyst for the Central High School Swimming Dynasty in Philadelphia. How could i notw ant to be a part of that? Thanks to PDR, we won the Philly’s Public League Team Championship all my 4 years, continuing the dynasty, and preparing me to be a NCAA athlete and swim competitively in college.
PDR was a historically a “black” swim team. By the time I came around, it was a mixed team but was still treated as a black team. We would deal with this at many meets we’d attend. And even though we were a mixed group, we had a “black” team culture. Most older PDR teammates went on to swim in college and would come back and tell us what it was like to not being on a black team anymore. But it didn’t hit me until my first day in teh pool at Towson University. I lifted my head out of the water to end my first warmup at my my first team practice, and lo and behold – after looking to my left ad right. I really am the only black person on this team. Whoa!
To be continued…

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