While the London Olympics place swimming in the national spotlight, one local swimmer has been setting records in South Brunswick long before the Olympic torch was lit this year.
After a standout four years at South Brunswick High School, Dayton resident Tyler Blackburn recently completed the final meet of his scholastic career before taking his talents to the University of Tampa in the fall. Last month, Blackburn competed at the 2012 YMCA Long Course Nationals in Atlanta, GA.
"It’s hard to believe my Y career is over. I’ve been swimming Y for half of my life," Blackburn said. "I will really miss my teammates and my coaches. They are a part of my family. I have made many friendships that I will have for the rest of my life swimming Y.”
A total of 1,226 swimmers representing 116 YMCA’s from 19 different states competed at the event. Blackburn was one of eight swimmers from the Hamilton YMCA Aquatic Club among 19 YMCA teams from New Jersey at Nationals. Over the course of his YMCA career, Blackburn was able to compete in six YMCA Nationals.
"My favorite memories have been at the YMCA National Championship meets during opening ceremonies," he said. "At opening ceremonies, my teammates and I get to parade around the pool deck and meet swimmers from other teams around the United States. The parade of athletes always reminds me of the Olympics."
Blackburn competed in the 1500 meter freestyle (time 17:20.89), 800 meter freestyle (time 9:10.52), 400 meter freestyle (time 4:17.17), 200 meter freestyle (time 2:02.28), 400 meter freestyle relay (split 56.30) and he anchored the 800 meter freestyle relay (split 2:00.47), which earned the boys relay team the chance to stand on the podium for finishing in the top 20.
In addition to competing in the pool, Blackburn was also honored for his hard work in the classroom. He was awarded the 2012 New Jersey YMCA Swimming Outstanding Scholar Athlete Award. The award is given to one graduating male and female swimmer who swam for the YMCA for five consecutive years, maintained a GPA of 3.5 or higher, and displayed the YMCA character traits of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility.
"I learned at an early age time management to get my school work done," Blackburn said. "(My coach) made sure that the entire team kept up with their school work. She gave us nights off if we had big tests or projects.”
During his four-year varsity career at SBHS, Blackburn etched his name in the record book multiple times. He holds the 200 freestyle, the 500 freestyle, and the 200 freestyle relay school records. Those records, he said, were among his proudest moments in South Brunswick.
"I’ve had so many accomplishments over my swimming career for South Brunswick High School, but two moments stand out the most for me," Blackburn said. "The first is winning the 500 freestyle title my sophomore year and the second is being the only swimmer in the school’s 15-year history to break the 5-minute mark."
However, Blackburn didn't achieve those milestones without putting in an extensive amount of work both in and out of the pool. In addition to swimming, he was also a highly decorated cross-country runner at SBHS. after finishing in 14th place with a time of 16:29 in the NJSIAA Group IV cross-country championships, held on Nov. 12, 2011.
From his freshman through junior years at SBHS, Blackburn was at the bus stop at 6:50 a.m. and after school would train for cross-country in the fall or track in the spring. On an average day he ran anywhere from five to ten miles per day.
But he didn't stop there. After running it was time for Blackburn to hit the pool. He participated in dry land training every other day for 45 minutes, and would then swim for two hours. He also trained on weekends in both sports, including a run of up to 13-miles on Sundays.
"When I wasn’t running I was at the pool every day," he said. "During the summer I trained four and a half hours a day. My senior year I had a little bit of a break with late arrival. It was nice having that extra hour to sleep."
Blackburn also helps to grow the sport of swimming by working with younger athletes during his free time. He coaches 9- and 10-year-olds for the Nassau Swim Club, which went 5-1 and placed second at the Princeton Area Swimming and Diving Championships, held at the Flemington-Raritan Pool in Flemington on July 23 and July 24.
Following the exploits of swimming legend Michael Phelps over the last 12 years, along with numerous other U.S. Olympic medalists including Plainsboro's Rebecca Soni, Blackburn said he's seen exponential growth in the interest of kids who want to follow in their wake.
"I do notice more and more young children starting at an earlier age than when I started swimming," Blackburn noted. "Personally I think if you start too young you could get injured, burn out or end up not enjoying the sport, which is a shame since it’s such a great sport and it is something you can do for the rest of your life. That is why I like coaching PASDA (Princeton Area Swimming and Diving). It’s an exciting way to introduce younger swimmers to the sport. There is no pressure with summer swimming.
"PASDA is about having fun. It’s a great way for younger swimmers to learn the strokes and make new friends. Rebecca Soni swam PASDA at Nassau Swim Club when she was young and now she holds the world record in the 200 breast."
As he prepares to move on to college, Blackburn will continue to swim at the at the University of Tampa, which competes at the NCAA Division II Level as a member of the Sunshine State Conference. One of the advantages of the school for Blackburn was the chance to continue swimming in his preferred venue, outside.
"I love practicing and competing outdoors," he said. "That is one of the reasons I chose Tampa. We swim outdoors everyday and most of our meets will be outside."
With at least four more years of hard work ahead of him, Blackburn will soon bring his South Brunswick-bred work ethic with him to the sunshine state. After that, maybe, he can finally enjoy a little extra sleep.
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