Swimming enthusiast puts his cross country background to use

Thursday, April 29, 2004

If it weren't for swimming pools, David Welker would probably lack any sort of social life.

Fortunately for Welker, there are swimming pools ... and he's quite fond of them.

The 16-year-old sophomore at Jackson High began swimming at age 2, and he generally only leaves the water to eat, sleep and go to school. Welker says his true self is revealed only in the pool.

"I go throughout the day not talking to anybody much," he said, "but once I get in the pool, I lose everything and go hyper. I pretty much live there."

Welker joined the local Gators swim team at age 5, and he now practices more than 15 hours a week with the club. The team swims two hours every day after school as well as 5 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and 7 a.m. on Saturdays. Weight-training sessions are 6 a.m. on Wednesdays.

The Gators compete nearly every weekend during the summer and on occasion during the school year. Welker participates on the sectional level, a couple steps below Olympic trial competition.

"I don't have much time. I pretty much just go straight home and do homework as fast as I can and as well as I can and then go to bed. I don't watch TV or anything like that. It's lots of fun, though," he said, "except for the morning practices -- that part's not too fun. I've been doing it so long, if I don't swim for a long time I start going crazy and annoy everybody."

He hopes his hard work in the sport will pay off in a college scholarship, and he plans to continue working out with the Gators in the summers throughout his college days. This summer he plans to help coach an AAU swim team for 10- to 12-year-olds.

Welker said much of his motivation in the sport comes from his best friend, 16-year-old Jameson Kuper, also a Gator. Welker and Kuper compete at the same level in swimming and train with each other when not in the water.

"Jameson and I push each other a lot," he said. "We always talk about how we are going to do a lot of running and biking this summer."

The two of them had teamed up with 17-year-old Steffen Troxel in the Steamboat Classic triathlon for three years, claiming first place every time. The group split this year, but going solo didn't seem to slow Welker. In Sunday's competition -- consisting of a 500-yard swim, a 15 1/2-mile bike ride and a five-mile run -- he was the first local participant to cross the finish line and placed second in the 19-and-under male division.

"It wasn't too bad," Welker said. "After I got off my bike and started to run it was tough, but it worked out. I was just happy to finish and go eat pizza afterwards."

Welker credits his success in the triathlon to his experience on Jackson's cross country team the past two years. Welker admitted he hadn't done much to prepare for the event.

"I ran a couple miles and biked 10 to 12 miles a couple Sundays," Welker said, "and, of course, swimming, but other than that I really didn't do too much. Cross country really helped me out."

Welker has his eyes set on the Cherokee Trail triathlon in the fall and eventually the Ironman Triathlon when he gets older. The Ironman event in Hawaii includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike race and a 26.2-mile run.

"If I had time to train right now for the Ironman, I would do it," he said. "It's a crazy amount of stuff to do, but I just want to push myself and see how it goes."

Mark Unterreiner is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian and a student at Notre Dame Regional High School. His Spotlight feature appears every Thursday.

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