Tuesday, Mar. 12 2013 1:25PM
By Stephanie Yeagle
While most other 8-year-old boys dream of being a firefighter or cop, Leo Kurucz, Lee’s Summit, dreams of being just like Michael Phelps.
“I really want to be a professional swimmer,” Leo said. “That’s what I want to do. I want to be like Michael Phelps. He won his 19th gold medal this year. Maybe I can win 21, maybe, if I go for it. If I do be an Olympic swimmer.”
And Leo is already working on that dream, swimming full-time for the club Team Dolphins under coaches Robert Sturman and Julie Reilly in the Missouri Valley Conference of USA Swimming.
The MVC stretches from Columbia to Springfield and includes all of the Kansas City Metro area, plus Wichita, Manhattan, Topeka and Lawrence, Kan. There are approximately 180 swimmers in the ages 8 and under male division. Leo holds the fastest times in three races for that category and is less than a second away from leading in all of the events except the breaststroke.
Leo’s time in the 25-yard freestyle is 16.13 seconds, in the 50-yard freestyle, 34 seconds, in the 100-yard freestyle 1 minute, 18.45 seconds, in the 200-yard freestyle, 2:51.32, in the 50-yard butterfly, 39.73 and in the 100-yard backstroke 1:31.
He likes to win, and especially likes the 25-yard freestyle.
“It’s not that long of a race and I want to get my fast time a lot,” Leo said. “But I’m going to be moving up to the long course now so I’m not going to be able to do any more 25s. I’m going to be swimming against 10 and unders.”
Swimming against older kids won’t be too much of a challenge, as Leo already proved he can keep up at the MVC East Division II conference held Feb. 22-23 at Gladstone Aquatic Center.
“Leo placed in all his freestyles in the top eight and he had to go to the finals in everything,” mother Rebecca Kurucz, a teacher at Bernard Campbell Middle School, said. “We didn’t expect him to go to the finals and he did and he took a fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth place against those 10-year-olds.”
“I didn’t think I would make it in the 50 fly,” Leo added. “ I was like, I probably won’t get my best time, but I shooted for it and I got a 35.”
At the end of the two days, Leo dropped times in all of his races.
“It was just kind of amazing,” Rebecca said. “It’s just really impressive.”
It’s a good thing Leo practices four times a week for an hour and a half and does pushups and pull-ups three or four mornings a week before getting on the bus to Cedar Creek Elementary School, where he is in second grade.
But Leo has also been swimming since he was a baby.
“We spend a lot of time in the summer swimming and his grandparents have a pool,” Rebecca said. “His sisters like to swim and they always raced so we just decided it was an important skill to know how to swim for safety. We realized that maybe it would be something that would go over well.”
It did go over well for Leo, who really started to blossom last summer.
“I noticed last summer for sure because he was 7 in the 8 and unders and he was winning all the time,” Rebecca said. “He just flew right through the water. He has technique and just natural things that I didn’t teach him.”
Something else that might be a natural advantage to Leo is his tall frame for an 8-year-old. All of his adult male cousins are 6-foot, 4-inches or above and Leo looks to be on par or above the same growth pattern. A long, lean frame will give Leo an edge over his swimming competition.
“He’s always been tall, even as a baby,” Rebecca said. “I don’t know how tall he will be, but I’m sure he will be taller than his dad or I.”
Leo has been swimming in a summer league for three years, but this year is his first time competing year-round.
“We really decided to see what his potential is and where he can go with it,” Rebecca said. “We decided to take a break from other sports for awhile and just swim. And it’s gone really well.”
Leo also plays basketball, but likes swimming better.
“I like it when the crowd is cheering and my coach is like go, go,” he said. “I like that too. I drink a lot of Gatorade before to get me hydrated and I eat some oranges and chocolate before because it makes me pumped up.”
And of course Leo likes to win.
“I feel pretty good,” he said. “My coach said I need to swim just a little bit faster. My best score in the 25 free is a 16.13 and I’m shooting for a 15. I’m going for a 33 in the 50 free.”
That competitive drive will help Leo at the end of the season in August when he competes in the Division I meet. He will continue throughout the spring and summer to compete in long course (50-meter pools) to earn Division 1 times.
“I get to the special meet and only swim against the kids that got a DI time in my age group,” Leo said. “Even if they are 10 or 12, I still have to race them.”
But he will get some help when he moves up to the next age division as he will be able to swim with his older sisters, Maisy Kurucz, 13, and Marie Kurucz, 15, who also compete on the Dolphins team.
“They are very sweet and supportive and they are excited for Leo,” Rebecca said. “He just seems to have a gift for it, so we are trying to progress that.”
Outside of the water, Leo is a normal 8-year-old boy that likes to play legos and video games. He does well in school and is an avid reader.
“I got the most reading points in my school and I got to do a dance off with the principal,” he said. “I beat her. I’m a really good dancer.”
“It’s the most intense sport I have come to find,” Rebecca added. “It’s all the time in the water, pushing your goals. We have to make sure we break it up sometimes.”
Leo’s grandfather, Thomas Kurucz, is the deputy superintendent of Lee’s Summit R-7 schools.