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Pennington's Curtiss swims on international stage

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David Curtiss started swimming with the same goal in mind as just about everyone who first gets started in the water.

“I started at the Y when I was 8 or 9 years old,” said Curtiss, a rising junior at the Pennington School. “It was just swim lessons to get me acclimated to the water so I didn’t drown. It just caught on from there. I slowly built my way up to club swimming and I would say it kind of popped off when I was 11 or 12.”

In less than eight years, Curtiss has gone from just hoping he could be in the water and not drown to being one of the top swimmers in the United States.

A Yardley, Pa. resident, Curtiss is a member of the United States National Junior Team and has set several records along the way in his career.

Curtiss recently returned from Vancouver, British Columbia, where he was one of the United States National Junior Team swimmers selected to participate in the 56th annual Mel Zajac Jr. International Swim Meet.  

“This was the first international meet that I have been in,” Curtiss said. “The atmosphere was great. It was a competitive atmosphere and it was different than what I had experienced in the US.” 

Competing against older swimmers, Curtiss finished second in the Long Course 50-meter freestyle in 22.78, which is a 2020 Olympic Trials qualifying time. He was also fifth in the 50 back in 26.73

The chance to swim against older, accomplished swimmers was something Curtiss was looking forward to heading into the meet. He’s a member of the Junior National team but will be swimming more and more against older swimmers.

“The Junior National team is just a step down from the National Team,” Curtiss explained. “I qualified last summer in the 50 free. Junior team members who have not been to an international meet before, they took them on that trip to experience an international meet.”

Over the course of the last year, Curtiss has certainly established himself as one of the country’s top swimmers.

He swims for the Hamilton Y Aquatic Club and he swam a LC 50 free in 22.64 at Y Nats for HACY to set a national YMCA LC record in August 2018. Curtiss also holds the HACY record in 100 back with a 49.41,

While swimming for Pennington this past winter, Curtiss swam the 50-meter free in 22.68 at the Mercer County meet for a meet record and NISCA Independent School meter record. He also swam the 100 meters in 51.26 to set a meet record.

At the Eastern Interscholastic Swimming Championships in February, Curtiss won the 50 free  in 19.70 for a meet and pool record. He also swam a 44.08 in the 100, which is also a pool record at Franklin & Marshall University in Pennsylvania.

“It’s certainly slowing down and getting a lot harder,” Curtiss said of his continued progress. “But I am still progressing, which is good. I left my previous club team, which was Tri-Hampton YMCA in Pennsylvania, to come to (Hamilton and head coach Sue Welsh) because I had heard this great reputation about her. She has definitely pushed me in the right direction and I have been progressing at a rate that I feel comfortable with and I am excited for next season.”

Curtiss has his sights set on being as well prepared as possible for the Phillips 66 National Championship meet, which will be held at the Avery Aquatic Center on the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. The meet begins July 31.

“I have been untapered all year, which means I have not rested,” the 16-year-old said. “I am going to do the Phillips 66 National Championship to try and qualify for the Junior World Championship, which is in Budapest in August. I am going to be rested for that meet so I am looking forward to that meet to see what I can pull out of the hat competing against the top swimmers in the country.

“It is another step up from the level I am currently swimming at. It is higher level swimmers. It’s not just people my age, it is the entire country with all age groups. So it is definitely going to be a different experience. I am very excited to swim at that level.”

Performing well at the Phillips 66 meet has been a goal for Curtiss since he started training last fall. 

“Usually at the beginning of each season I try to figure out what my goals are short term and at the end of the year long term like this meet,” he said. “I knew in September that I was going to train for that and rest for that meet. I just try to figure out my priorities and what I need to accomplish over my season.”

In the midst of his training in the winter he also has the opportunity to compete for Pennington, which is something he enjoys.

“It’s a nice break from the self-centered competitiveness that I usually have to go into in US Swimming.” Curtiss said. “High School swimming is such a fun team atmosphere. It’s a lot easier to swim with a high school than by yourself. My team is so supportive and it is so much fun to swim with them. It’s a great break from all of this.

“I enjoy competing with my friends from school. Relays are definitely more prominent in the high school season because in every meet I am usually in all of them because my team relies on me for that freestyle leg. Hamilton does have relays at national meets but it is seen a lot more in the high school season.” 

Curtiss hasn’t ascended to his current level by accident. He works hard all year round with just the occasional break from the pool.

“I try to take a break here and there and sit out a day here and there and relax and regain my composure,” Curtiss said. “It’s been a long year and it is not over yet. I enjoy playing recreational basketball. It is a break from swimming and it is fun. But swimming usually takes up all of my time. I try to fit in a basketball game or two with my friends at school or my friends at swimming. It helps break up the monotonous swimming schedule.”

It’s a demanding schedule. But one that has helped Curtiss become one of the top Junior swimmers in the country. 


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