The Sarasota School of Arts and Sciences seventh grader is still getting better.
Evan Keogh is fearless and young enough to not recognize what should scare him.
Up until a month ago, the 12-year-old swimmer’s hobbies included leaping off Siesta Key’s multiple bridges with his friends, hitting the water below flush and never once backing down from a challenge. It was fun, he said, and the height didn’t scare him. He stopped, though, after considering the injury risks and other potential consequences of those decisions.
Even then, it’s not the injuries themselves that worry Keogh. It’s what they could ruin.
Keogh is the top 12-year-old swimmer in the country. The Sarasota School of Arts and Sciences seventh grader leads the U.S. in IMX, or “individual medley xtreme,” points. It’s a new system developed by USA Swimming that measures performance in various events, with the intention of training swimmers to be well-rounded. For Keogh’s age group, qualifying events are the 200-yard freestyle, 50 backstroke, 50 breaststroke, 50 fly, 100 IM (short course) or 200 IM (long course), with each race being designated a different weight in terms of points. Keogh’s 4,582 points outrank second-place Humberto Najera’s (Calif.) 4,538 points.
He also won all six of his events at the Florida Age Group Championships on Feb. 18 in Orlando, the only swimmer at the event to win that many. Six months ago, Keogh might not have swam that well, but he and his Sarasota Tsunami coach, Ira Klein, have noticed an uptick in his performance over the last half-year.
Keogh said swimming with the Tsunami senior team has increased his motivation, and swimming twice a day, four times a week, has helped, too. Klein said former Tsunami and current University of Louisville freshman T.C. Smith has served as a role model for Keogh, who wants to break all of Smith's Tsunami records. Keogh felt no intimidation joining the senior team, just like he felt no fear standing on the edge of bridges.
“He’s always been a solid swimmer,” Klein said. “But swimming with the older kids pushes him. He’s the youngest in the group. He’s even set up his school schedule so he can swim with them."
He’s also been improving his diet, saying he mainly focuses on “carbs, protein and veggies” and has cut back on sweets. His mom, Anya Keogh, makes sure this diet carries over to the lunches she packs him each day.
He’s also going to start running with a furry friend. The Keogh family has two dogs, a Labradoodle named Dash and a Goldendoodle named Buddy, and recently added a foster puppy, a beagle named either Jack or Carl depending on who is speaking to it (Keogh says Carl). Keogh is treating Carl like his other dogs, and that includes daily running sessions, beneficial to the health of both parties.
Motivation won’t be an issue. Recent results have the young swimmer thinking hard about the possibilities.
“It makes me think I have a good future,” Keogh said. “I’ll only improve as I get older.”
The future is something Keogh thinks about quite a bit, he said. Keogh has eyes on the 2020 Olympic trials and the 2024 Games themselves. First, he said, he wants to make the cut for an Olympic Futures meet by April. His 100 backstroke has been “sprouting up,” so he’ll try to hit that event’s qualifying mark of 58.79. The Futures meets are usually filled with 15- and 16-year-olds, Keogh said, but he’s confident he can make it.
He wasn’t always. When Keogh started swimming competitively at age 7, in Chicago, he didn’t care for the sport. He only swam because he had friends who swam. It was too cold for water sports there, Keogh said. During his final year there, in the spring of 2015, he performed well at a state meet, and that gave him a shot of confidence that spilled into his time with the Tsunami. He’s been working with Klein since August of that year, and he credits Klein with taking his raw potential and turning it into something great.
“He improved me from the ground up,” Keogh said. “My flip turn stroke, freestyle, backstroke, fly, everything.”
There’s a long way to go before 2020. Klein said there are many reasons why swimmers talented enough to reach the Olympics never make it, and it’s tough to project how swimmers as young as Keogh will mature, both physically and mentally. As of now, though, Klein is keeping all possibilities open.
“I wouldn’t put a ceiling on him at this point,” Klein said. “We just want him still progressing at 17, 18, and into college.”
There are some bridges that Keogh and Klein will happily wait to cross — not jump off — until that time comes.