Athlete of the Week: NMB’s Bryan makes major strides

North Myrtle Beach swimmer Mason Bryan may be a late bloomer, but he’s also proving to be a strong finisher.

The sophomore just joined the Chiefs swim team and the Coastal Aquatic Club team two years ago, and he’s only been started in competitive swimming at the recreation level four years ago, when he first moved from the Chicago area to North Myrtle Beach.

Yet he’s already claimed a state title at last week’s SCHSL Swimming Championships, winning the 100-yard backstroke in a time of 53.36 seconds. The feat also earned him the Mammy’s Kitchen Athlete of the Week award.

“We had been here a few times for vacation, so when we moved here that’s what I thought it was going on like a full-time vacation,” Bryan joked. “That’s what I thought. I was like ‘They have schools? I thought it was just the beach.’

“I had played baseball before but I was kind of bored with it and my parents told me I needed to pick a sport. I chose swimming but I was so far behind it everybody else here. A lot of the kids in my club had been swimming since they were 5 or 6.”

Not content to stay in everyone’s wake, Bryan kept his head down and worked with his club and school coaches to get better. He began shedding seconds off his times in at a surprising rate and soon was winning at the local, state and regional level.

“When I first started I was so far behind I couldn’t see the people in front of me,” Bryan said. “But I just kept working harder and harder and trying to improve my time every meet. Maybe it was a stroke of luck, but I just happened to catch on.”

Like a fish in water, which is the best way to describe his performance at the state meet. After finishing third in the same event last season as a freshman, Bryan set his sights on breaking the 54.5-second mark and instead beat it by more than a full tick on the clock.

“I cut more than 2 seconds off last year’s time, and that’s like an eternity in the pool,” he said. “My goal was 54.5 but I skipped the 54s all together and went straight to 53. Next year I want to break the state record but I still have to knock 2.5 seconds of my time.”

But with an impressive high school season in the books, Bryan now turns his attention to the club level. He is training twice a day to qualify for the Junior National Sectionals in hopes of advancing to the national meet.

“I just moved up to the 15-18 age group so it’s sort of like I’m back to square one,” he said. “But I love the challenge and the competition. It gives me something to work for and makes me want to put in the work to shave even milliseconds off my times.”

It’s that type of dedication and steady progress that has helped Bryan get where he is today, although he spreads the credit around to his coaches and mother, Ola, for getting him to the pool for training and events.

And if he continues his rapid rate of improvement, expect to see Bryan on many more podiums in the future.

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