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Strides and strokes

Havre de Grace senior Jeff Riley got a later start in swimming than most other high school swimmers, not taking up the sport until about three and a half years ago. But the late start hasn't hindered him, as he has grew into one of Harford County's top swimmers. He led a small Havre de Grace team -- the Warriors had only six swimmers -- to finish third at last week's Class 3A-2A-1A state championship meet.

Riley took second in the 100-yard backstroke, third in the 100 freestyle and swam on the second-place 200 medley relay. He set a state record in the 100 backstroke in last year's Class 4A-3A meet.

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When did you get into swimming?

I [started] the summer before my freshman year.

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What made you decide to pick up swimming?

I wasn't any good at any of the other sports I tried, and my dad always told me everybody is good at something, so I gave swimming a try. And it turns out I'm pretty good and love swimming.

How did a small Havre de Grace team do so well this season?

[That's] simple. Our coaches are very experienced and insightful [and] expect a lot out of us and hold us to a very high standard. They care a lot about their swimmers and everybody on the team pulls their weight. We're small but mighty.

What is it like to finally have swimming recognized as a state championship sport in Maryland?

It's great to finally get the recognition the sport deserves on the state level. Now hundreds of students across the state have the opportunity and recognition that other more established sports have always had.

What's in your iPod right now?

Anything from Lil Wayne to Journey. I like all kinds of music that has a message and gets me pumped.

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If you had the chance to sit down and have a one-hour conversation with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?

Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, because he was selected as Time Magazine's Person of the Year. He had an interesting background -- growing up poor, KGB agent, etc. But he is also very intelligent and led his country through a difficult period of change from Communism to democracy, and still receives a high approval rating of the Russian people. He also is a swimmer, and I would like to know what his times are.

You said you swim all year round. What's your schedule like in a regular week?

During the school year, I go to school and then practice after school with the high school [team], and if it fits the schedule, I'll also attend practice for my club team as well [before going] home and Dad has dinner ready. Then, I do homework and then work out three days a week ... 45 minutes of stretching exercises and a hour of weightlifting, and start all over the next day. During the summer, I get up at 5:30 and practice from 6 to 7:30 and then go to work at the pool from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and then attend a second practice in the evening and then head home for dinner.

What are you looking at studying in college, and are you going to try and swim?

I'm still deciding between Towson and Lehigh and want to earn a degree in business/accounting. Absolutely, I plan to swim in college. I hope to be involved in swimming in some form for the rest of my life.

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Why is swimming so popular in Harford County while there's not as much interest in other parts of the state?

Probably due to the number of swimming clubs in the county that provide year-round swimming opportunities. The foresight and planning by coaches, athletic directors and parents [are a help]. There's an appeal of the sport that provides a challenge to the individual.


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