If you think you worked hard in elementary school, you should meet Nathan Mendes.
This nine-year-old is a straight A third-grade student at , Mendes is a Cub Scout in Pack 331 and a classical guitar student at the Fox River Academy of Music and Art.
And on top of all that, he’s already an accomplished swimmer, one of the youngest members of the Academy Bullets Swim Club. In fact, next weekend, Mendes will become one of the youngest competitors in the Illinois Junior Olympics, held at the University of Illinois in Chicago.
And while the upcoming meet has him somewhat nervous, his parents and coaches are proud of him, and excited to see how far he can go as a swimmer.
Mendes started swimming when he was one year old. His father Nate is Brazilian, and the family has a place on the Amazon River. And as his father said, Nathan was “on a progression from there.”
He started taking lessons at the Vaughan Center in Aurora. It was there that he first saw the Academy Bullets, one of the leading swim clubs in the state. The Bullets sport 300 members, and they practice in three different sites: the Vaughan Center and Marmion Academy in Aurora, and Lewis University in Romeoville.
“I saw them practice, and I said, who are they?” Nathan said. “I want to swim with them.”
Two years ago, he realized that dream, trying out for the Bullets and making the team. Coach Ken Carlson, who works with the bronze level (the youngest members of the team), said the Bullets range from 6 to 19 years old. He said the number of 8 and 9-year-olds clocking qualifying times for regional and sectional competitions is pretty low.
Last week, Mendes swam in a regional meet, and though he didn’t win, Carlson said, he did swim fast enough that coaches invited him to join the team headed to the Junior Olympics, where he’ll swim in a pair of relay races.
Carlson said Mendes has made great strides, particularly for someone so new to the sport.
“He’s a hard worker, and he deserves every bit of the accolades he’s receiving on this,” Carlson said.
Mendes confirmed the hard work – he practices swimming every day of the week, except on Sunday. (“That’s when he practices his guitar,” his father said, laughing.) He said he’d like to stick with swimming, and perhaps pursue it as a career.
And while he did admit to some nervous feelings about the upcoming meet, he knows how he’s going to beat them: “Once you get in the water, you just go as fast as you can,” he said.
“We’re very proud of him,” Nate Mendes said. “We’re extremely proud that we’re raising such a good citizen.”