“Moffat County swimming has prepared me a ton for the academy, not only physically but morally and mentally.”
— Moffat County High School senior John Kirk about how the MCHS swim team has prepared him for the Merchant Marines
Toning up his biceps and shoulders to propel himself through water has become a daily routine for Moffat County High School senior John Kirk.
Practicing the backstroke, butterfly and other techniques in the MCHS pool has strengthened his body and mind continually, something that comes in useful during swim meets but will be even more constructive for his post-high school plans.
Kirk this fall will be part of the rowing team for the United States Merchant Marine Academy this fall.
He said the road to the academy has been a complicated one. Though he has always planned on a career in the military, it was only last summer when he chose the Merchant Marines.
“The biggest thing is just to get into the academy,” Kirk said. “It’s not just an admissions process, and you have to be appointed by a senator or a representative.”
Kirk sought recommendations from U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton last year, receiving approval from both for the initial stages. He was then selected along with less than 300 applicants, beating out thousands.
When he recently traveled to the academy in Kings Point, N.Y., he was invited to work out with the crew team.
“I was rowing on an erg (ergometer), which is a rowing machine, and so they asked me if I could back for practice the next day,” he said. “I put up some pretty good numbers and they said they’d be more than happy to have me on the team.”
Kirk said he may or may not be on the varsity roster, depending on how the rest of the crew turns out for the fall.
Starting in July, Kirk will experience “plebe summer,” the introductory period for incoming academy freshman.
“It’s a couple weeks where it’s basically like boot camp and they’re getting us ready for life in the military,” he said. “I’m essentially a naval reserve officer while I’m in school, so I need to be in shipshape form.”
Though he has less experience rowing than those on the East Coast, where the sport is more prevalent, his workout regimen will still keep him ready for the activity.
“It’s a lot of strength in the legs and in the upper body, so I’ve gotten that from swimming,” he said. “Apart from what I do in the pool, I do weight training and cardio, but it’s going to be physically demanding there.
“We’ll be going against Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Virginia, Maryland, all the schools that go for the big cup things.”
Having others around him in such close spaces, such as fellow rowers in the boat and a coxswain up front keeping them in sync, will be an adjustment for Kirk, especially for someone his size.
“The guys that row are huge, but they’re not much taller than about six (feet) two (inches), top,” he said. “I’d probably be a pretty big rower.”
Kirk said his main concern is taking advantage of everything the academy has to offer.
“It’s going to be a good opportunity, and there are a lot of chances for advancement after graduation to give back to my country,” he said.
His time in the pool has played a distinct part in his collegiate level plans, he said.
“Moffat County swimming has prepared me a ton for the academy, not only physically but morally and mentally,” he said.
Kirk first took up the mantle of captain of the boys varsity swim team in his sophomore year.
“It really jumped my ability to lead and have the charisma to talk to people and discuss issues with my coaches and teammates,” he said. “Swimming, you’re doing it individually and as a team. I can succeed as an individual, but the only way to succeed as a team is to get my other teammates to finish better. Rowing is one big team, and you’ve got be sure everybody is doing what they’re supposed to do to be the best.”
Swim team Coach Meghan Francone said Kirk’s people skills in the field of athletics, which have helped him record numerous state qualifying times this season, will serve him well as he heads into the military.
“He is a leader for sure, he can lead people wherever he wants,” she said. “We’re proud of him, and he works hard and I know he can do whatever he wants in life because he’s a phenomenal athlete and well-rounded person. He’s going to go far.”
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