Photo courtesy of Jim Todd
Each week SI.com will select the athlete who displays excellence on and off the field as the Primetime Performer.
Michelle McKeehan, 5-foot-5, Jr., Center Grove (Greenwood, Ind.)
Junior Michelle McKeehan was nearly flying across the water when she set a national high school record of 1:58.06 while winning the 200-yard individual medley during the Indiana state finals last Saturday in Indianapolis.
"She's the closest thing I've ever seen to anybody who can walk on water," Center Grove coach Jim Todd said. "She gets high on the water and you have less resistance when you swim high on the water."
The short-lived record of 1:58.28 was set just one week earlier by Mary Beck of Westlake (Austin, Texas), who still has her state meet this weekend. She had topped the 1:58.45 mark, which was set in 2000 by Olympian Natalie Coughlin.
"I was a little in shock. I never dreamed I could go that fast," McKeehan says. "I felt good in the water. Hopefully, I can go faster during the meet in New York. This week has made me more goal-oriented. Hopefully, in the next year or year and a half I'll get stronger and go for it [the Olympics]."
McKeehan, who had broken the Indiana record with a time of 1:59.61 during Friday's qualifying, received a standing ovation at the conclusion of her race and again when she received her award. She also won the 100-yard breaststroke in a state-record time of 1:00.23. It marked the third consecutive year she won both events.
"I knew it was a record and I went crazy," Todd says. "I was screaming and yelling. She turned around, looked at the scoreboard and smiled. She is just so humble. She never wants any attention on her. We did not shave her for the high school meet, because we are focusing on Long Island [the spring nationals]. [If we had shaved her], hopefully, she'd have gone [1:57]."
Perhaps, McKeehan glides across the water so rapidly because she actually is terrified of being under water.
"Usually I have some kind of panic attack. It's scary holding your breath under water," says McKeehan, who carries a 4.1 GPA and has drawn interest from Florida, Texas, Auburn, Indiana, and Northwestern. "Ever since I was little I've had a fear of holding my breath. I'm claustrophobic."
She began swimming when she was 10 because she idolized her older brother, who swam the 500-yard freestyle for Franklin High. Her parents both had been swimmers at Perry Meridian (Indianapolis).
McKeehan claims she "was pretty bad" at first, but by the time Todd began coaching her as a seventh grader at the Center Grove Aquatic Club she had improved dramatically.
"After the second week, I said, 'She's the real deal.' She started primarily as a breaststroker, but the last three or four years, she really has developed all four strokes," Todd says. "Her biggest improvement has been in her increased strength. She is a weight lifter -- body resistance, that kind of stuff. She is powerful and very, very quick. She is a workaholic."
The 5-foot-5, 130-pound star works out about four hours per day. She takes off just one week at the end of March and two weeks in August. Of the four strokes she swims, she says her backstroke needs the most improvement. "That's where people gain some time on me," she says.
Last August she placed fourth in the 100-meter breaststroke during the nationals in Irvine, Calif, qualifying her for the USA Pan American team, which will compete in Brazil this summer.
"She's a great kid," Todd says. "I just love her to death. Even without swimming, she's always going to be a success because of her work ethic."