Christian Berg is serious about swimming. His dream: to compete for University of Texas coaching legend Eddie Reese, whose camp Berg has attended.
But Berg, The Day's 2011-12 Swimmer of the Year, didn't get this good by just showing up as a freshman at Fitch High School.
Berg wasn't the best swimmer on his team when he started. Ahead of him were All-Americans Emmett Dignan, now swimming for Division I Virginia Tech, and Tom Rowland.
And Berg had a pretty good family member ahead of him, too. Alivia Berg, now a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy, was a two-time All-American, a four-time all-state selection and also a Scholastic All-American, graduating from Fitch in 2010, Christian's freshman year.
"I wasn't really full of myself. It's a reality check," Berg said of having Dignan and Rowland in front of him. "It shows you that there are people out there better than you.
"... I looked up to Alivia tremendously. Straight from freshman year my goal was to better her times; I don't want to be able to say my sister's faster than me. She's, like, smart. She's good at sports. She's one of the smartest kids in her grade at Air Force. I'm definitely not as smart as her and I get good grades."
Berg, a 6-foot-4, 155-pound junior, had his first big moment this season when he broke Fitch's 34-year-old record in the 500-yard freestyle, finishing in 4 minutes, 52 seconds in a dual meet victory over Waterford on Jan. 6. He also broke his own school record in the 200 freestyle the same day (1:48.24).
Then came the Eastern Connecticut Conference championship on March 3 at UConn-Avery Point. Berg was named swimmer of the meet, winning four events, three in record-setting fashion.
Berg set the ECC record in the 100 backstroke in 52.22, breaking Dignan's mark of 53.06 set in 2010. He won the 200 freestyle in 1:44.94. And Berg was a part of two meet record-setting relay teams, guiding the 200 medley team (1:39.16) and the 200 freestyle team (1:30.19).
He was third in Class M (52.54) and sixth in the State Open (52.90) in the backstroke and seventh in Class M (1:46.24) and ninth in the State Open (1:45.29) in the 200 freestyle. Meanwhile, both Fitch relay teams were fourth in Class M to qualify for the Open.
Berg recently competed in Greensboro, N.C., at the YMCA Nationals.
"Sometimes I get tired, during a long practice during the season," Berg said. "But once you go fast it re-motivates you. I had three really influential meets this year: the day I broke the 500 and 200 record and kind of set the status, the second East Lyme meet (a 92-77 victory) where I went pretty fast and ECCs. I played other sports as a kid; I just took on swimming. I get in a mindset.
Berg's father Ken is the Fitch girls' and boys' swimming coach, having coached all three of his children, including Jessica, the eldest. Ken Berg said he had two of his former athletes teach his children to swim when they were little in the pool in the Bergs' back yard.
Christian admits to being pushed harder by his dad.
"It doesn't stop at the pool. He brings me movies to watch about technique and stuff," Berg said. "But you get more out of it."
Berg is about a second off being an All-American himself in the 100 backstroke. The automatic qualifying time for 2012 was 50.44 seconds; the time for All-America consideration was 51.66.
"If you're walking down the path and you find a nickel and then you keep walking and you find a dime, then a quarter, you see the value of what you're doing as you're walking down this path," Ken Berg said of what motivates his son. "You see the increased return on your investment. It's too far to turn back now."
Berg, a high honor student, has been an All-ECC and All-Area selection since his freshman year when he won the 200 and 500 freestyles at the ECC meet. As a sophomore, he took the 200 freestyle and the 100 backstroke. He also swims for the Laurel East Hartford YMCA Swim Club.
"I never really took it seriously until my freshman year," Berg said. "I just showed up to practice. I had to live up to the name of the mighty Emmett Dignan and the super sprinter Tom Rowland. I would never lead. But I kind of welcomed it."