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Hard Work and Dedication Produces Rising Star in Roanoke

Keith Myburgh trains long hours at the Gator Center.
Keith Myburgh trains long hours at the Gator Center.

Swimming doesn’t get a ton of media attention, save for the Olympics – or anytime Michael Phelps, the undisputed star of the sport, decides to hop in the pool. Most of the time, competitive swimming, its athletes, and their stories get buried beneath our love of the NFL, Major League Baseball, March Madness, Tiger Woods, the BCS, or the Chase for the Cup. Around here, that list might be amended to include high school football and the Hokies.

For fans of swimming, you have my sympathy. I know what it’s like to have your favorite sport snubbed; as a soccer fan, I have not yet accepted the fact that soccer in the U.S. is only slightly relevant once every four years, when the World Cup rolls around.

I recently was introduced to a young man from right here in the Roanoke Valley, whose accomplishments in the pool are hard not to be impressed with. His name is Keith Myburgh. Keith, who goes to Cave Spring elementary, is only 10 years old. He’s been swimming competitively for less than three years. But based on his accomplishments during that time, it’s quite possible that the sky is the limit.

A member of the Virginia Gators swim club (headed up by coach Doug Fonder), Keith ranked #1 in the country for his age group during the long course season, according to the USA Swimming, Inc. IM Xtreme Challenge rankings. Keith is also currently ranked #5 in the nation during the winter short course season. He holds eleven Virginia Gators team records. He is the Virginia state champ for his age group in the 200m and 500m freestyle, the 100m breaststroke, and the 200m individual medley, Keith’s favorite event, in which he owns the state record with a time of 2:23.44.

That’s pretty good for three years. Heck, that’s a pretty good career. But what really impressed me about Keith was his dedication. Consider: for two hours per day, six days per week, Keith is in the pool swimming laps, working on different stroke techniques and staying in shape. He has a few weeks off in August, and one week off over the Christmas holidays. That’s it. Oh, and he does all of this while keeping up with his schoolwork. So I guess it wouldn’t surprise anyone to know that when I met Keith and his family over coffee at the Daily Grind, Keith was – you guessed it – just coming from practice, wet hair and all.

For a nine year-old, that’s a lot of responsibility to handle. But Keith doesn’t mind it at all. “It feels really good to get out and exercise, and I have a lot of friends on the team,” he said. “I like to swim a lot, it’s fun.”

His parents love to watch Keith swim, as well, but they also love the life lessons the sport is instilling in their son.

“I think that swimming relates to how everything else in life works,” Keith’s Dad, Victor, said. “You have to work hard, and have a good work ethic, and Keith has that. He doesn’t mind the work, and we’ve never had to ask him or make him go to practice.”

Things haven’t always come easy for Keith – “my butterfly and breaststroke weren’t legal at first,” he admitted – but improvement has come with the many hours of practice he’s put in. Want proof? Look again at the list of events in which Keith is a state champion. One of them is the 100m breaststroke.

Keith has set high goals for himself. “I want to go to the Olympics and win at least one gold medal,” he said matter-of-factly.

I have to admit that I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled it off, and then some. In fact, the only thing that I learned about Keith that did surprise me was when I asked him who his favorite swimmer was.

I expected him to say Phelps, in the same fashion that so many young basketball players say Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, or LeBron James is their favorite player. But Keith smiled and said, “Ryan Lochte.” Who? I did some research on Lochte on the internet, and found a common thread: Lochte is the World Record holder in the 200m individual medley.

“I like how he comes from behind and beats everyone,” Keith said. Can’t argue with that. Good luck, Keith. I hope you break his record someday.

Another Gator swimmer with great promise is Jacob Siar, who was named by Virginia Swimming as the 13-14 swimmer of the year. Siar, a southwest Roanoke County resident, broke eight team records, won multiple events at Age Group Championships, and qualified for USA Swimming Junior Nationals to be held in December.

(See for more on the swimming program, located at their pool on Overland Road. The Gator December Invitational at the Gator Aquatic Center is December 5-6)

By Matt Reeve
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