Preston Conger goes about his work diplomatically.
"Before I swim, I tell the other people I'm swimming against `Good luck and God bless you all,"' said 10-year-old Preston, who participated in the swimming championships of the Georgia Games.
Oh, and one more thing.
"I've added a new line," he said. "May the force be with you."
The force was with Preston on Saturday at the Augusta Aquatics Center, so much so that he earned a bronze medal in the 50-meter butterfly of the 10-and-under division. The pass of 36.3 was his best-ever in the event.
Preston, a member of Greater Augusta Swimming, was participating in his third Georgia Games. He's been swimming for six years and said he enjoys it "because I get to go places."
So far, the fifth-grader at South Aiken Baptist Christian School has been to locales such as Knoxville, Tenn.; Tallahassee, Fla.; Brunswick, Ga.; and Pensacola, Fla.
On Saturday, he came to the pool with the jitters.
"I was nervous because I knew it was a fast meet," he said. "But I knew I would do good because I pray before the events."
When Preston's mother, Blanche Conger, was her son's age, she began swimming at the Augusta Country Club. A few years later, her family and several others began a swim team at the YMCA on Greene Street.
"Eventually, there were about seven or eight families that got together and began the Augusta Swim League," said Blanche Conger, whose father served as president of the fledgling ASL in the early 1970s. "My parents saw a lot of life lessons in swimming that you can't get in other sports."
Lessons that have been passed on to the next generation. Preston's sister, 14-year-old Blanche Conger, also participated in the Games.
"Both my children just love the water," their mother said.
Preston said he has plotted his life's course. It's an ambitious one.
"After I go to the Olympics, I'll start a job and go on a mission," he said.
As for the force? If Preston has his way, may it be with everyone. Competitors included.
"Some people just laugh when I tell them that," he said. "I tell them that it's just a joke, and I think it makes them feel good."
Larry Williams can be reached at (706) 823-3645 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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