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Lafayette Hill swimmer Reece Whitley makes a splash at 14

At just 14, swimmer Reece Whitley is making a big splash - so big that the Lafayette Hill native seems poised to become an Olympic star.

Reece Whitley, local swimmer from Lafayette Hill.
Reece Whitley, local swimmer from Lafayette Hill.Read more

AT JUST 14, swimmer Reece Whitley is making a big splash - so big that the Lafayette Hill native seems poised to become one of America's brightest future Olympic stars.

Just shy of 6 feet 8 inches tall (hey, most-decorated Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps is 6 feet 4), the teen told me he's often assumed to be a basketball player.

And older.

"Is he really 14?" is a question his parents, doctors Kim and Karl Whitley, hear often about their son, a competitive swimmer at his school, Penn Charter, and in the Suburban Swim League.

"Clearly, people notice Reece, and not just because he's tall," Karl Whitley said. "Sometimes there are 200, 300 kids participating, and he's the only black boy swimming. So there is not yet a huge presence of African-Americans, but it's growing with kids like Lia Neal, Simone Manuel [both from Stanford] and Dax Hill from Texas, to name a few."

That's encouraging news, and perhaps Reece's success will inspire more young African-Americans to pursue competitive swimming.

But how did it all start for him?

"At the age of 6, we enrolled Reece in the SwimAmerica program, and while he also plays basketball and baseball, he really took to swimming," his mother recalled.

"I wasn't a good swimmer," chuckled the modest Reece, "but I really worked hard."

And that hard work started paying off six years later when he began crushing records - including his personal bests.

Just five days ago, the Penn Charter Aquatic Club swimmer broke his own record in the 100-yard breaststroke at the Tom Dolan Invitational in Maryland. His incredible time - 53:06 seconds - established Reece as the fastest 14-year-old swimmer in that category.

Continuously raising the bar, Reece competes against himself, and suboptimal performance is not an option. "I always finish what I start and give nothing less than 110 percent," he said.

"Reece is very, very, competitive and hardworking," said his dad. "We're not pushing him, he wants to do this."

Indeed, the motivation would have to be internally driven. Reece typically puts in grueling, 16- to 18-hour days. His typical schedule: up at 4:45 to make the 6 a.m. practice at the Penn Charter pool; going to school, then another swim practice from 6 to 8:30 p.m.; plus homework in between and after.

Competitions regularly fill his weekends.

Despite his achievements, this young athlete and scholar remains firmly rooted and down-to-earth. He shared with me that biology is his favorite subject and that he will likely follow in his parents' footsteps and go into medicine.

When I asked him how he felt about being a role model, he replied, "I think it's a great opportunity to be a leader in the community, and I plan on doing some work with the kids."

Wise beyond his years, Reece has already learned that hard work will solve 90 percent of the challenges life sends your way, and the other 10 percent involves showing up prepared. With his desire, drive and determination, the possibilities are endless.

Obviously, every young competitive swimmer dreams of competing in the Olympics. There's no doubt in my mind that we'll be seeing Reece in either the 2016 or 2020 games.