When Cedric Taylor started swimming seriously at 11 years old, he never thought about being a role model. He just liked to swim.
Four years later, Taylor feels the same way, but as one of the top young African-American swimmers in the nation, he can't quite avoid the role-model tag.
"I don't really look at it that way," said Taylor. "I'm just there to swim, not to impress somebody."
Still, Taylor has impressed a lot of people. For two straight years, he has emerged as Swimmer of the Meet at the Black History Month Meet in Washington, D.C.
His times have been good enough to place him among the nation's four best 15-year-old African-American swimmers for those two years, earning him a couple of trips to U.S. Swimming's Minority Outreach Camp at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
Sid Burkot, who coaches Taylor with Retriever Aquatics at UMBC, said Taylor is a role model, but not only because he is a talented African-American swimmer, but because he is a talented swimmer, period.
"Cedric is a role model by his actions," said Burkot. "He doesn't really know how that works, but he will soon."
Taylor quickly made a name for himself in his first appearance at U.S. Swimming's Junior National Championships in March. He finished 13th in the 500-yard freestyle, even though his qualifying time had seeded him 37th.
"The first time you go to a meet like that, you can get pretty nervous," said Burkot, "but Cedric handled the pressure really well. In the morning [heat], he went out real fast. He swam away from the field, just took off. That shows me something.
"It takes a lot of guts to do that -- at 15 to say to those other kids come and get me. They started catching him in the last 100, but he held on. That's something that comes from inside. You can't teach that."
At the same meet, Taylor also swam his best time in the 400-yard individual medley.
A swimmer since he was 5 years old, Taylor joined Retriever Aquatics at 11 and quickly became serious about the sport.
Two years later, he started hitting his target times, and he's continued to get better.
The Wilde Lake High junior now holds club records for the 500 freestyle and the 400 IM and has the second-best time in the 200 freestyle.
"Cedric's always been very talented," said Burkot, "but in the past year and a half, he's really grown physically, he's grown mentally and he's grown emotionally. When you get all three going in the same direction, the improvements become dramatic."
In April, Taylor made his second trip to the Olympic Training Center. He was the only Baltimore swimmer selected for the second annual Minority Outreach Camp. He trained and underwent some basic testing, including being filmed in the pool and in the flume, a kind of swimming treadmill.
When he returned home, Taylor gave a presentation to the Retriever club on his experience.
That's one way U.S. Swimming hopes to recruit and keep more minority swimmers, said Bob Steele, the organization's director of coaching development and outreach programs.
Of the approximately 250,000 swimmers registered with U.S. Swimming, only 10 percent are minorities, with 2.7 percent African-Americans, said Steele.
While Taylor said he enjoyed the experience, he said he prefers training with Retriever buddies Patrick Evans, Mike Conti, Brian Crawford and Dave Denrich. He said they are the ones who make him a better swimmer.
"When we go up against each other, we really push each other to the highest extent," he said.
After a summer workout schedule that includes twice-a-days three times a week, Taylor hopes to make another strong showing at the Junior Nationals in Orlando in August. He also hopes to make the cut for the Senior National Championships.
Like most young swimmers, Taylor's ultimate goal is to make the Olympic team. Unlike most of his peers, though, Taylor might just do it, said Burkot.
"Cedric could be as good as Cedric ultimately decides he wants to be," said Burkot. "Nobody can make that decision for him. I can put pressure on him and his mom and dad and friends can do the same, but Cedric is the one who has to step up to the plate. He can be as good as they come."