Dr. Success: Aram Kevorkian is swimming toward Olympics

Seventeen-year-old swimming phenom Aram Kevorkian  Credit: Travis Hill/Active.com
Aram Kevorkian is usually in bed long before David Letterman comes on. Having to wake up three times a week at 5 a.m. for swimming practice will put a damper on watching late-night TV.

Such is the life of a lap pool phenom. Kevorkian, a La Jolla High School junior, has been setting records in the pool since he was 10 years old. In August, he will set his sights on the Olympic trials in Indianapolis.

[Kevorkian] has a lot in front of him, said Jeff Pease, coach of North Coast Aquatics, the club Kevorkian belongs to. He is already in some elite company. Kevorkian has already raced against some of the worlds best swimmers, and he will face the cream of the current U.S. crop in August.

Needless to say, Kevorkian and Pease are in the midst of a rigorous training program to get the 17-year-old ready for the meet of his young life.

However, the regimen differs from those followed by his elder rivals in one important respect: it does not include spending time in the weight room. Pease, who has been coaching Kevorkian since he was a 13-year-old, does not want his young star to be pumping iron just yet.

I dont really believe in lifting weights for high school swimmers, Pease said. These kids are still growing. When a kid is 18, 19 or 20 and has a beard, then he should be lifting. If youre not shaving, youre not going to get too much stronger by lifting weights. Theres obviously not enough testosterone in their body for these kids to really get that much stronger.

Instead of lifting weights, Pease has his pupils do plyometric exercises, which involves using ones own body weight to strengthen the muscles. Pease employs a circuit training program outside of the pool that includes sit-ups, push-ups, running stairs and squats. He also uses medicine balls and stretching cords.

The circuits last about 35 to 40 minutes. Pease has his swimmers swim a certain distance, then hop out of the pool and immediately do a series of crunches, lunges or other plyometric exercises.

Obviously, Pease has his swimmers do the majority of their work in the water. The team has nine sessions a week at the Jewish Community Center in La Jolla: every day after school from 3 to 5:30 p.m., the dreaded 5 to 6:15 a.m. sessions on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, and a Saturday morning practice from 7 to 10 a.m.

Pease estimates that his swimmers cover about 75,000 yards every week in the pool. That may sound like an awful lot of yards, but for someone who wants to swim in Sydney, the sacrifice is necessary. The more yards you swim, the more powerful you will be, Kevorkian said. So the amount [of yards] we swim is good.

Pease says also that since Kevorkian is a technical, finesse swimmer, the time he spends in the pool gives him a chance to work on holding his form. He has outstanding technique already, Pease said. We really dont work too much on that aspect. But swimming this much helps him on his form when he gets tired and sloppy.

Kevorkian says that the long sessions in the pool have helped him improve his stamina.

[Earlier in high school] my legs used to die at the end of meets, he said. But now my legs dont get as tired. The practices are really tiring and Im always walking around all sore, but itll pay off.

He has already begun to see results. At the 2000 CIF swimming finals held earlier this month, Kevorkian dominated in the 200-meter individual medley and the 500-meter freestyle, easily winning both events.

Now he is focusing his workouts on preparing for the Olympic trials. According to Pease, the summer season for the North Coast Aquatics team will include a meet every two or three weeks, culminating in a huge event at the University of Southern California in mid-July. The USC meet will feature clubs from all over the world.

Kevorkians summer schedule will be geared toward getting him primed for the three events he will be swimming in August: the 400-meter freestyle, the 1,500-meter freestyle and the 400-meter individual medley. Kevorkian is hoping for a top-eight finish in his events, knowing that his most powerful swimming days are ahead of him.

He has already come into contact with several of the top collegiate swimming coaches in the country and once he graduates from La Jolla High, he will be allowed to tackle the weight room.

Im a stroke-oriented swimmer now, Kevorkian said. But my power will come when I go to college and start lifting weights. Im excited about it. I want to see if it will really help.

Pease has no doubt that his star swimmer will get better as he grows up. He believes that as Kevorkian grows both physically and mentally, he has the potential to be as great as he wants to be.

He is a hard worker, Pease said. He is a great kid and he could really be something special.

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