South Forsyth’s Blake Atmore glides around in an empty lap pool at the Cumming Aquatic Center on Monday afternoon, posing for pictures and holding conversation with understated ease, as if he could read Sunday’s newspaper over a tall stack of pancakes while treading water.
While that may be typical of a competitive swimmer who spends cold, early mornings and late afternoons between two plastic ropes, Atmore isn’t like most Division I-level swimmers.
That is, he didn’t start at a young age and single-mindedly train with college and Olympic goals in mind. No, Atmore played lacrosse and basketball and swam on the side to stay in shape in middle school, even serving as his eighth grade hoops team’s captain, before committing to swimming full-time prior to his freshman year at South.
Did that put Atmore at a disadvantage? Not quite.
“I didn’t know much about swimming races or having to pace myself, but coming to the sport later helped me to not burn out,” Atmore said. “I don’t know if I would’ve loved doing it my whole life, and I enjoyed getting to play other sports.”
By October of this year, he was taking official visits to Florida State, North and South Carolina, and Georgia. By early November, Atmore had committed to the in-state Bulldogs, one of the strongest programs in the Southeastern Conference.
Atmore said he felt most comfortable on his Oct. 25 visit to Georgia, where he clicked with his future teammates and got the sense that Jack Bauerle (recently back from NCAA purgatory) and his staff could help him be the fastest swimmer possible.
Now, attention shifts to the 2016 Olympic Trials—a distant goal that Atmore’s early swim coach, Mark Merin, who saw the rising freshman’s potential, used to convince him to make a full-time switch.
“As soon as he said that, I really re-focused,” Atmore said. “I realized I didn’t have much of a future in basketball or lacrosse, and I’ve stuck with it since. I didn’t really like [swimming] at first because it was so hard and I wasn’t used to it physically. I grew to love the competition once I adapted to it fitness-wise.”
Atmore now trains with Jeff Hike at Swim Atlanta in Johns Creek.
“I thought I trained hard, but I really didn’t,” Atmore said. “He helped me grow and took my swimming to the next level by always trying to get the best out of me.”
As a junior, Atmore qualified for the state meet in four events and finished sixth there in the 100 fly. His strongest events, historically, are the 100 and 200 backstroke, both of which Atmore hopes to finish among the top three at state as a senior.
“When it’s those early mornings or the second practice of a day, I always try to think of what I want to achieve and what I’m really here for,” Atmore said. “I have to remember what I’m training for so I can swim as fast as I can.”