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Swimmer navigates life's challenges

Just 12 years old, Tyrik has the serious air and subdued excitement of a young man who already knows who he is and what he wants from life. The youngest of four siblings, all of whom have participated in activities at Harlem's Dunlevy Milbank Center, he still remembers his very first experience with the 5-lane, 25-yard pool: "I started coming here when I was five. I would look at the people swimming and think, 'I want to do that.'"

Tyrik joined the swim team that would become the Stingrays a few years later. Was he a natural? "I knew how to swim, but I couldn't swim the way I can now," he remembers. Years of practice and learning new techniques from the coaches have since earned him three trophies and 24 medals, including three first-place medals at the Stingrays' most recent meet. One of the team's most dedicated members, he says the Stingrays lost their first race by one point, "but the next race, we won. We kept learning new techniques, and we kept winning."

Tyrik practices his techniques four days a week, admitting "I don't come in on Wednesdays, sometimes, because the coaches want me to take a rest." This doesn't include the special practice on Saturdays that Coach Dexter offers as a reward to the hardest working swimmers, of whom Tyrik is one of just six: the Elite Team. Coach Yelitza attests that if she wants Tyrik to do something, all she has to do is tell him that he might have to stay home one day. "He can't stand it," she says. "That kid was born to swim."

Mom is proud of Tyrik too. His mother, as well as the rest of the family, comes to watch him swim. "My mom says she knows how to swim underwater," he says, as though he's not sure he believes her.

The focus it takes to learn a new stroke, to improve a time, or to make it to practice four or more days a week has helped Tyrik in his schoolwork. In addition, to be on the team, members must keep their grades up. Though a spot on the Olympic team is a dream for the future, Tyrik knows what he must do now to make it happen: "I've got to get good grades and go to a good college," he says matter-of-factly.