LANSING | If there were any swimmer Thornton Fractional swim coach Chris Simich could keep on his team forever, he said it would be senior Kurtis Van Kuiken.
Van Kuiken, a senior, is the fastest swimmer on the team. He is also Thornton Fractional's most versatile swimmer, something that has come in handy as the team has tried to compete against schools with much deeper rosters.
"I can put him in anything and count on him to win or take second in the event," Simich said. "It's going to change the dynamic of the team when he graduates this year."
Van Kuiken will close out his high school swimming career Saturday when he competes in the sectional meet at Lincoln-Way East High School. Simich said he has Van Kuiken penciled in to swim in the 100- and 200-yard freestyle events, and might use him as well for the 200 medley and 400 freestyle events.
Though it is unlikely Van Kuiken will qualify for the state meet, he said he hopes to drop his personal-best times in the final high school swim meet of his four-year career.
"I'll be upset when I leave swimming because I'm used to doing this every single year this time of year," said Van Kuiken, who also plays volleyball. "It will be different in the future."
Van Kuiken grew up with a language disability that has required special education schooling. For the past two years, Van Kuiken said his special education needs have been limited to English classes to help improve difficulties he has with comprehension and general language usage.
"That was a lot harder on me as a kid, but I have adapted," Van Kuiken said.
Van Kuiken competed in the Special Olympics in Lincoln, Neb., during the summer 2010 and won the 200 IM. He said the sport of swimming has provided a comfort zone for him.
"When I'm in the water, the only thing I have to think about is swimming and meeting my goals," Van Kuiken said.
The focus has paid off. At a dual meet in Oak Forest, for example, Van Kuiken lowered his time in the 500 freestyle by nine seconds to five minutes, 41 seconds.
"I was pretty shocked by that time," Van Kuiken said. "I never felt any happier. It was a huge thing for me."
For the team's Senior Night meet against Bremen, Simich typically allows his swimmers to pick the events in which they choose to compete. Simich looked at the lineup, however, and asked his best swimmer to compete in the 200 IM and the 500 freestyle, which Simich felt may give the team a chance to win the meet. Van Kuiken agreed, and helped the team win their final home meet of the season.
"He did that for the team, which was something great," Simich said. "He didn't win either event, but he took second and dropped his times in both events."
Simich said Van Kuiken's work ethic and leadership will be missed next season.
"I can't think of a kid in recent years that has been more driven than Kurtis," Simich said. "When he swims, he has one thing on his mind, doesn't play around, and makes no excuses."