The first time Kentlands resident and Richard Montgomery High School freshman Pierre Zeineddin swam the 200-yard butterfly, it didn’t go very well. It was his first time racing more than 100 yards and he was a small 8-year-old competing against much bigger and stronger 11- and 12-year-olds.
“I stopped right after I finished the first 100 yards, I just couldn’t go on anymore,” Zeineddin recalled. “The timer kept telling me to keep going and I told her I just couldn’t.”
Understandably, Zeineddin went on strike for a few years after that, focusing more on freestyle events. But butterfly kept calling out to him, he said. The reason he was drawn to it is likely what scares most young swimmers off: Butterfly is arguably the toughest stroke to master and certainly the most physically demanding.
“Butterfly doesn’t feel natural, like the freestyle, since it is a wave-like motion,” Zeineddin said. “But it kept calling to me, especially the 200. I loved the fact that my coach said, ‘This is a tough event.’ I wanted to show myself that I could survive.”
On Dec. 7, Zeineddin set a meet record en route to winning the Boys 13-14 200-yard butterfly at the Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club (RMSC) Holiday Invitational, hosted by the Germantown Indoor Swim Center. His time of 1 minute, 54.56 seconds is this year’s fastest in the Washington metropolitan area and ranks no. 11 nationwide in his age group.
“He works very hard,” said RMSC coach Pat Tozzi. “We design workouts for him and he always does them exactly the way they’re designed; he has great work ethic. And he is a good athlete, so he picks up on things.”
Zeineddin’s time has dropped quite drastically over the last 12 months. He first broke the two-minute mark in March; at the end of 2016, his best recorded time was 2:06.81. But the major improvement was the result of steady progress, taking a step at a time rather than looking too far ahead at ultimate goals.
“I always see swimming as a sport based on time, dropping a millisecond can make or break you,” Zeineddin said. “I see that as an opportunity to always go the extra distance. Every one second or two seconds I can achieve, once it all adds up, it’s a really tangible achievement. That’s what drives me, that I have the ability to work toward something.”
Zeineddin, who Tozzi said is always up for a challenge, is in no way limited to the 200 butterfly—he finished fourth in the 400 individual medley at the holiday invitational. He also finished second in the 100 butterfly, eighth in the 100 freestyle and ninth in the 200 individual medley. The longer the race, the better for Zeineddin, he admitted. At 5-foot-7, he is often surrounded by bigger and stronger athletes. And there is not much he can do to counter their size advantage in the sprint events. But races that are at least 100 yards in length require more strategy and proper technique than sheer power.
“There is more of a game plan, I know exactly what I want to do (in longer races),” Zeineddin said. “Once I know what I’m going to do and how I’m going to swim a race, I know I can accomplish anything.”
Zeineddin, who turned 15 at the end of December, said he hopes to improve at a consistent rate as he climbs up the age groups. He has qualified for Next College Student Athlete Junior Nationals in the 200 butterfly and is looking to qualify in several other events. The next major goal, he said, would be to qualify for USA Swimming Junior Nationals.
“I was so afraid of the 200 butterfly (after my first experience) and I didn’t swim it again until I was older,” Zeineddin said. “But then I realized it was something I could really conquer.”