Friday, February 8, 2008

Move over, Benko, you could have company

Center Grove's McKeehan can join Olympian as state's only 4-time, 2-event titlists
February 8, 2008

GREENWOOD, Ind. -- Michelle McKeehan is one of the best high school swimmers in the nation, but you wouldn't know it by what's in her room.
The Center Grove senior has won six state championships and gold medals in international competitions and countless age-group events, and she could be on the U.S. Olympic team this summer.
Yet she has a mere two medals -- golds from last summer's Pan-American Games in Brazil -- casually draped around the top peg on a rocking chair. The rest of her trophies, ribbons and plaques are in boxes or drawers.
"I'm afraid if I would see them every day, I would become satisfied and that's something I don't want to do," McKeehan said. "I'm not done dropping time. I'm not done swimming faster.
"I've never been a big trophy person. It has always been about times and how much faster I can go than how many ribbons I can collect."
McKeehan's high school career ends at this weekend's state finals at the Natatorium at IUPUI, and it likely will be historic as she heads back onto the national stage with this summer's Olympic Trials.
McKeehan, 18, can join Olympian Lindsay Benko of Elkhart Central as the only two Indiana swimmers to win two individual titles each year of high school.
McKeehan didn't set out to be a swimmer. As a kid, she wanted more than anything to be like her older brother Nicholas. He played soccer, so she played. He turned to swimming, so she swam.
By her freshman year, she was winning state championships. In 2006, she earned medals in international events in Australia, becoming the first American junior to break 1 minute, 10 seconds in the 100-meter breaststroke with a 1:09.93.
"Michelle has the most unbelievable work ethic I've ever seen for a young girl, or a boy for that matter," Center Grove coach Jim Todd said. "She has a deep desire and passion for the sport, and I think she must have a very high pain threshold. She pushes herself so hard in practice it must hurt."
Most of her life is school -- she has a 4.17 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale -- and swimming. She bakes as a hobby, getting close to perfecting pumpkin bread, and takes care of Molly, her black Labrador puppy.
Every weekday, she drives her hand-me-down Ford Focus to school for practice at 5:45 a.m. She trains four hours a day, finishing around 6 p.m.
McKeehan's parents, Stuart McKeehan and Amy Chase, both swam at Perry Meridian.
"They've always told me, whenever I stopped liking it, that's when I'm able to give it up. That's played a large role in where I am," she said.
McKeehan was in kindergarten when her parents divorced. Both are now remarried, and she splits time between being with her mom in Franklin and her dad in Greenwood.
"My parents have been really respectful of no matter what's happening outside the pool, inside, I'm their focus. They work together and encourage me," McKeehan said. "It's a comfort to come inside and see my parents have that common bond. Whenever all of us are on deck, it's so much fun to have the family together again and just be together."
Said Todd: "When she's swimming, that's her haven. She doesn't have the stress with her family, which sometimes she has."
Each of the past three years, McKeehan has won state titles in the 100-yard breaststroke and 200 individual medley. She set state records in each event last year. She held the national high school record in the 200 IM before it was broken a week later.
McKeehan will swim the 100 and 200 breaststrokes and the 200 IM at the Olympic Trials June 29-July 6 in Omaha, Neb. The top two in each event make the Olympics, but no matter what happens, she has the eye of U.S. coach Mark Schubert.
"It's not unusual for high school kids to make the Olympic team. That's not an unrealistic goal, but I see her getting a lot better in four years and swimming again in eight years as a professional," Schubert said.
"At this point, she's somewhat of a long shot, but just like she did at the Pan Ams, she can shock the field. She has that ability."
McKeehan, who is headed to Georgia in the fall, wasn't the favorite when she won gold in the 100 breast at the Pan Am Games. She also swam on the gold-medal winning and record-setting 400 medley relay.
"I like the spot I'm in because coming out of high school, I'm going to have the Olympic Trials, then coming out of college, I'll have the Olympic Trials and hopefully the Olympics," she said after a recent practice.
At 5-5, she is often the shortest person on the medal podium. She makes up for that with a well-chiseled physique, honed with 45 minutes of weightlifting every weekday.
"She has a lot of talent other than just the 100 breaststroke," Schubert said. "I think she has a great future in front of her."

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