Shawnee swimmer’s versatility pays off at state championships

Many of the fastest athletes in high school swimming have mastered a particular stroke or event.

Shawnee senior swimmer Jon Burkett has managed to master them all.

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Burkett finished his final high school season in the pool with an outstanding performance at the New Jersey boys’ swimming Meet of Champions, winning the 100 butterfly and finishing in third place in the 100 backstroke.

Swim head coach Eric O’Neill said swimmers as versatile as Burkett are hard to find.

“I can put him in any event and at any distance,” O’Neill said.

Burkett credits his versatility to an intense training regimen.

“I practice eight to nine times a week,” he said. “Some days, I’m in the pool for five hours.”

While Burkett has become competitive in every swimming event, the butterfly has always been his best. Burkett began swimming at Deerbrook Swim Club in Medford at the age of 11. He said the butterfly was the stroke he picked up the fastest.

“I was naturally talented at the butterfly,” Burkett said. “So I focused on that pretty quick.”

Burkett began to emerge for Shawnee in his sophomore year, when he was a member of its 2013 state champion individual medley relay team. Burkett was poised to make a splash at the states in the individual events. However, his plans were derailed when he tore his right calf muscle a month prior to the championship meet.

Entering his senior year, Burkett knew he only had one more chance to win an individual event, so he pushed himself to work harder than ever. O’Neill saw a strong sense of determination in Burkett entering the season.

“He really came back senior year extra determined,” O’Neill said. “He had goals from the get-go to win the state championship.”

Burkett had a season unlike any other, swimming in every event for Shawnee except for the 500 freestyle. Not only did he swim most of the events, but he didn’t lose a single race in a dual meet the entire season.

At the state championship for the final time, Burkett said competing individually was a bigger deal than when he was part of the relay team his sophomore year. Burkett loved to swim under the spotlight.

“Winning an individual swimming championship is more impressive in and of itself,” he said. “There’s definitely more pressure. I think the pressure makes me swim faster.”

O’Neill added Burkett could have finished near the top in the individual medley and breaststroke events as well, but Burkett chose to concentrate on butterfly and backstroke.

“I thought with backstroke and butterfly, I would have the best races,” he said.

In the butterfly, Burkett was the only swimmer to register a time under 50 seconds, finishing the race with a time of 0:49.43. Later in the day, he finished in third place in the backstroke with a time of 0:50.48. Both of his times broke the school record for each event.

Burkett received a scholarship to continue his swimming career at North Carolina State, a strong swim program that will enter next year as the defending Atlantic Coast Conference champions. As excited as Burkett is to compete in Division I swimming, he was happy to finish his high school career on a high note.

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