Phenom. A word that is often tossed around wildly when describing a star athlete. And Penn Charter swimming sensation Reece Whitley has heard it as much as anyone.

“I was being called a ‘young prodigy,’ but I never really thought about that,” said the 6-foot-8 Whitley, who is already defying odds. At age 16, he has been invited to the Junior Olympics, was the youngest swimmer to ever swim 100 yards in under than 60 seconds (53.06), and even has a good chance at competing in the Olympics in the years to come.

The sophomore at Penn Charter began swimming in elementary school, with a program called Swim America. However, taking up this sport was a little out of the norm, as his parents hadn’t been swimmers. His mother had played field hockey and his father was into track and field, but Reece was quickly attracted to swimming.

After becoming the fastest 12-year-old to swim the 100 and 200 breaststroke, Reece began to commit himself to the sport, as he noticed swimming could take him somewhere in life. However, it never came exactly easy.

“[Some are] naturally born with a feel for the water and from that, you can develop amazing strokes that can take you so far in the sport,” he said. “I was not that kid. I liked being in the pool, but my strokes weren’t really that great. For an oversized kid, that’s not normally the case, so I really had to work to form my strokes around my size.”

As a result, Reece has had to spend hours watching film, perfecting his stroke, and getting ready for races that last just one minute.

“I’m watching race videos more than I’m watching Netflix for sure,” he added, laughing.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Reece lifts weights prior to school. He gets into the pool every day, and the grind doesn’t stop there.  

“Saturdays in the fall usually range from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Those are the worst. Now, they are usually from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.”

On Sundays, he works out for an hour as a “technique session.” The work is exhausting, but worth it.

“There are some nights where my homework is halfway legible because I am so tired I can barely write,” he added. “I get it done at the end of the day. I notice there are so many other people doing what I’m doing all across the country in terms of balancing school and swimming.”

Whitley said he cannot think of the last time he took a day off, although he had some time off during the summer. Even during Philadelphia’s big blizzard a few months ago, Reece found a way to make the day useful by doing dryland workouts in his basement. He claims that although it is something he does all of the time,  practicing is the toughest aspect to the sport.

“It is a grind,” said Whitley. “I mean realistically we are looking at a black line at the bottom of a pool for two, three, four hours at a time, twice a day, and on top of that, doing lifting sessions. So, for me, practicing is the hardest part.”

Whitley is staying focused, though, and keeping his eyes pinned on the future, with the Charlotte Grand Prix coming up in May and Olympic trials in June.

“I definitely want to make a couple world championship teams,” he said of his goals. “Hopefully [I will be on] Olympic teams. Pan-American Games teams…The international trips, those are the best.”


Photo: Jeremy Brevard – USA TODAY Sports Images

Benjamin Simon

Junior at Science Leadership Academy and Sixers analyst for Philly Sports Nation.

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