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Nearly two years ago, T.J. Osborne’s right rotator cuff was killing him.
After swim meets, it ached. When practices ended, the Meade County senior swimmer admitted the pain was even worse. The butterfly was draining his strength.
Then, former Green Wave swim coach C.J. Kirk switched his events, moving Osborne to the 50- and 100-yard freestyles.
“My (50 free) time was a 25 and I dropped two seconds at the regions meet. I was like ‘I’m going to be a a little good at this,’” Osborne said.
Well, more than just a little.
A State qualifier last year, Osborne swam on the team’s 12th-place 200 free relay (1:34.06) with Aaron Bauer, Justin Presley and Nicholas Thoma and the 23rd-place 400 free relay with Bauer, Presley and Shawn Mason.
But he left disappointed with his times and didn’t feel he swam his best race. Afterward Osborne was tired, burnt out even.
So he made a drastic change. Instead of competing for the E’town Dolphins like he usually did, Osborne took a three-month break over the summer and returned to the water once school resumed.
“Like everything I did in State showed at what I did in practice. I didn’t have a good finish. I didn’t have a good turn. My underwater work wasn’t good,” Osborne said. “But this year I have a chance at doing pretty well at State, if I do go, so I’m going to actually really, really try.”
He’s spent more time working out, especially his upper body, intensified and increased his effort in practice, fixed his kicking motion and turned in some career-best performances over the past couple of weeks.
“I think it’s just my kicks. I used to not, like, kick straight. But I’ve been working on straight kicks now,” Osborne said. “I used to come out and my legs’d go all over the place. I’m controlling my body a lot more from what I used to.”
This year, Osborne’s 50 free time finally dropped below that 23-second mark. He reached that Jan. 12, when he finished in 22.7 seconds at the Best of the West in Bowling Green. He nearly hit that time again Saturday, winning the 50 free at the Shelbyville Winter Invitational in 22.72 seconds.
Last season, those times would’ve placed him in the top 22 at State. Meade County coach Andy Mills said it’s all because Osborne has found the drive.
“It’s more his want and desire and attitude that’s got him there than anything,” Mills said. “We’ve talked about his stroke and worked on his stroke some. His stroke’s fine. It’s more him realizing that he’s got to give it all in practice. In the last three weeks, he’s been by far the best practice swimmer.”
He’s giving the Green Wave a major relay edge, too.
Although Presley and Mason have graduated, the Green Wave haven’t missed much of a step.
The leadoff swimmer on the 200 and 400 free relays, Osborne has teamed with Cody Jobe (senior), Thoma (senior) and Bauer (junior) for a handful of victories and runner-up finishes this season. They took the 400 free relay (3:35.11) and finished runner-up in the 200 free relay (1:34.95) Saturday, won the 200 medley (1:50.76) and the 200 free (1:38.84) at the Dec. 5 Patton Invitational and won the 200 medley (1:49.65) and placed second in the 400 free (3:35.58) at the Nov. 17 Elizabethtown Invitational.
Mills acknowledged Osborne has the group’s best start, which helps give the Green Wave an extra boost.
“He’s a lot of fun and a great swimmer,” Bauer said of Osborne. “He’s really fast. (He) usually he gives us a good enough start that we can keep.”
Bauer, who anchors both relays, said the team has swum a ton more sprints this season which has increased its endurance. They’re trying to break the school record of 1:33.81 set by Presley, Thomas, Bauer and Osborne.
“I think we’ll go to State again this year, hopefully break the record,” Bauer said. “We’re just like a couple seconds from it.”
If Osborne stays dialed in, they have a great shot.
“I just tell myself I’m going to do good, just keep my head up a little bit. When I prepare for the swim, I think about what my stroke rate is going to be, what my kicking is going to be, my turns,” Osborne said. “When I step up on the block, I just really pay attention to the buzzer and try to get off the block as fast as I can – faster than the other swimmers.”
John Groth can be reached at (270) 505-1754 or firstname.lastname@example.org.