Local pair take aim at spot in Olympics

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Katherine Huff admits she trips on land a lot.

Katherine Huff, a rising senior at Lakeside, will compete in the USA Swimming National Championships, which start Tuesday in Palo Alto, Calif. Aiken's Steven Kekacs will also take part. 
  Corey Perrine/Staff
Corey Perrine/Staff
Katherine Huff, a rising senior at Lakeside, will compete in the USA Swimming National Championships, which start Tuesday in Palo Alto, Calif. Aiken's Steven Kekacs will also take part.

Good thing she seems to be at home in the pool.

The rising senior at Lakeside High recently posted two qualifying standard times (50-meter freestyle and 100-meter freestyle) while fellow Aiken-Augusta Swim League member Steven Kekacs, a rising senior at Aiken High, added two (200-meter butterfly and 400-meter freestyle) to his 1,500-meter freestyle cut for the USA Swimming National Championships.

The two can still earn a spot on the United States' 2012 Olympic team, but both see the 2016 Games as the more likely goal.

"The thing about us is we kind of know that making the team is kind of out of our reach, so it takes off a lot of pressure," Huff said. "For the people that (could be close to making it), it's such a stressful meet. For us? Let's just go have fun and race."

First, the two have the upcoming USA Swimming National Championships in Palo Alto, Calif., Tuesday through Aug. 6.

These are their rewards for training 24 hours every week, sacrificing -- again -- what could have been a relaxing summer.

With all the time swimming, both have higher intake needs. Huff said she is supposed to get 4,500 calories a day.

Though they say they don't have strict diets, Huff is sure to grab a chocolate milk after swimming, and Kekacs no longer eats hot wings before races.

The swimmers have been spending plenty of time in the pool since childhood, with Huff starting to swim in the summer league when she was 7.

By fourth grade, Huff was swimming year round.

Kekacs began summer league at age 4. In about a year, he was swimming year round before he decided to devote some time to another sport.

"Around 10, I quit for about half a year to play football," Kekacs said. "Then I kept doing summer league, and people were beating me, so I was getting kind of upset about it. So I came back."

They worked at many distances growing up, but by high school it was clear where they had the best future.

Huff loved the 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 200 freestyle and the 100 butterfly but dreaded the other events. Kekacs went with longer distances because he "was terrible at sprinting."

For Huff, dropping a tenth of a second on her 50 time (26.58 in the 50 LC meter freestyle at the Senior Sectionals) makes for a great day in an event she said can be decided by who has the longest fingernails.

Kekacs' challenge in the 1,500 is to fight the urge to go all-out at the start.

He said he doesn't think about going as fast as he can until he hits the final 500.

"He teases me, he's like, 'All your races added together isn't one of mine,' " Huff said about Kekacs with a laugh. "I'm like, 'I'm sorry.' "

Much like their racing strengths, both have a different mind-set when it comes to the college decision.

Huff is hoping to sign by November so she can enjoy her senior year and focus on training, but Kekacs hasn't committed to a deadline.

Both consider Georgia and North Carolina as two of their favorites, though Kekacs sees an advantage with Harvard.

Alex Meyer, a 2010 Harvard graduate, was the first U.S. swimmer to qualify for the 2012 Olympics when he placed fourth in the 10-kilometer open water race at the 2011 FINA Swimming World Championships in Shanghai, China.

The 10-kilometer race was added to the Games at the 2008 Olympics, and Kekacs sees that as his best chance to make the Olympic team.

"I don't try to focus on these things I can do wrong. I think about what I can do right and how I can race," Kekacs said. "Once I'm in, I focus on racing the guy next to me. At the end, I give it my all."


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