Athlete of the Week: CAC’s Sullivan making big waves

Patrick Sullivan was the runaway winner in the 11-12 year old boys’ division at the 2012 South Carolina State Swimming Championships in Greenville last weekend.

But the race that made him the top overall swimmer and the recipient of the prestigious High Point Award came down to the slimmest of margin – by 1/100th of a second in the 100-yard individual medley.

“I was behind going into the last lap of the race,” Sullivan recalled. “I was paying attention to them for first half of the last lap, but then I just put my head down and tried to get to the wall as fast as I could. I didn’t know I had won until I looked up and saw my teammates jumping up and down.”

The victory gave Sullivan an impressive six first-place finishes (the 50, 100 and 200 backstroke, the 50 and 100 freestyle and the 100 IM) in the statewide meet. Perhaps more impressive, however, is the fact that he finished in the top five in all 11 events (second in the 50 and 100 butterfly, fourth in the 200 IM and fifth in the 1000 freestyle and 400 IM).

Sullivan’s mastery of all the strokes and distances at an early age shows a dedication to the sport. Inspired by his mother, who swam collegiately at Providence College, Sullivan started paddling around the pool as a child and started swimming competitively five years ago, just as his team, the Coastal Athletic Club, was starting to make big strides in the sport.

“I loved it immediately and I learned to swim really fast,” said Sullivan, who also finds time to play rec soccer. “I was practicing two or three days a week, then four or five days a week and now I’m practicing six days a week. … I plan to stick with swimming and try to get a college scholarship, and hopefully one day make it to the Olympics.”

Sullivan has a nice head start in those directions, especially given his age. While some swimmers are more physically gifted for their age and use that advantage to dominate their division, Sullivan still has room to grow and he’s already winning by sheer determination and mastery of the fundamentals.

“Patrick is mature for his age (mentally), he knows all his best times and everyone else’s,” CAC coach Fabio Silva said. “But he hasn’t filled out his body yet, he’s not real tall and doesn’t have a lot of muscles, but he’s really strong and fast. If he continues to work hard and grow stronger, he can be a great swimmer.”

Sullivan is well on his way, and he is the latest example of Grand Strand swimmers closing the gap on the rest of the state. Since the formation of CAC, nearly 100 swimmers now make up the team and the local group is gaining ground on the more established programs in the Upstate. The competition is Sullivan’s favorite aspect of the sport.

“I love the competition and the fact that you’re on your own out there,” the Waccamaw Middle School student said. “It’s just you against the other swimmers and the clock, and you can only count on yourself to win or lose.”

And so far Sullivan is experiencing far more of the former than the latter.

“Patrick is still young and I want him to have fun,” Silva said. “He doesn’t need too much pressure on him too soon. I tell him, ‘It’s great that you’re winning, but never think you are the best.’ But if he keeps it real and keeps working hard, he has a chance to do some great things in swimming.”

Photo by Pam Salice

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