Three state titles and two state records – add a Bryan County Athlete of the Month award and all of that equals the accomplishments that Richmond Hill swimmer Preston Jenkins achieved in the month of February.
Jenkins received his award March 11 during a banquet in his honor at Beef ‘O’ Brady’s. The restaurant also gave him an achievement award as well as an Athlete of the Month T-shirt.
The Richmond Hill High School freshman started the month by winning the Region-3AAA high school level title for the 100 meter backstroke. Jenkins ended the month by winning the Club state titles for the 100 and 200 backstroke competitions – in record-breaking times for his age group. By month’s end, Jenkins was ranked second in the nation for his age group by USA Swimming.
RHHS doesn’t have a swim team, but RHHS teacher/coach Pat Paruso sanctioned Jenkins at the high school meets. For the Club meets, Jenkins competed as part of the Georgia Coastal Aquatic Team under the tutelage of Savannah resident and Olympic medal winner Bill Forrester.
"Preston has that fire within to want to be the best, and he has the talent to back it up," Paruso said. "I don’t know why Preston is driven like he is, but he swims hard to do his best at every stroke – and that’s what it takes to be a champion."
Paruso said it doesn’t hurt that Jenkins is built like a swimmer.
"You talk about Michael Phelps being a swimming machine, well Preston has the same physical attributes," Paruso said. "He’s got big hands, big feet, a big heart and he loves to swim."
Paruso said he travelled with Jenkins to his high school meets and served as a source of encouragement, but credited Forrester for getting Jenkins to the level he is at.
"He’s a tremendously talented athlete and one of the best backstrokers in the country," Forrester said. "Preston is a shining example of what happens when an athlete combines focus, natural talent and the ability to work. Where he goes from here is completely up to him."
Unlike most sports, serious swimmers have virtually no break in their schedule. Jenkins’ workout regimen has him swimming six days a week, three hours a day – all year round.
Jenkins started swimming when he was nine. His first sport was soccer, but he dropped out when his coach told him he’d have to play every Sunday. As not to interfere with church, Jenkins tried his hand at swimming. He immediately excelled and, by age 10, he took second in the state meet and became fourth in the nation for 10-year-olds.
Since age 10, he’s remained in the top 10 in the nation for the backstroke and won numerous state titles in each age group. After his last meet, Jenkins pulled up the records for one of his heroes, multiple Olympic gold medal winner Aaron Peirsol, and found that he actually beat Peirsol’s record when Peirsol was the same age.
"That was something he’d been reaching for since he was a little boy," his mother Kim Jenkins said. "I attribute much of Preston’s success to his commitment to excellence. He’s very self motivated. He’s child number three, and he’s the only one we don’t have to get onto about homework or making the grades. It’s all him; he’s very self driven."
Preston hopes to follow in his brother Kaleb’s footsteps in getting a collegiate scholarship for swimming. Preston also aspires to one day compete in the Olympics.
Thus far in March, he has already won the southeast sectionals title for both the 100 and 200 backstroke competitions. All this week, he has been in Orlando competing against 18 and under Olympic trial qualifiers in the prestigious U.S. Junior National competition.
Honorable mentions: RHHS sailor Kyle Brewer, RHHS basketball players Tay Reynolds, Tyler Carlson and Chakiris Moss, RHHS wrestlers John Phifer and Zach Sheffield, BCHS basketball players Tiffany Howard and Alex Cruz, and RHHS soccer players Lindsey Vasher and Sam Vernon.
To see a photographic history of all the past Bryan County Athlete of the Month award winners, click here http://community.bryancountynews.net/gallery/detail/67/