“Outside of swimming, what do I do? That’s a hard question.”
Kyle Stefanides spends most of his time in a pool, in school, or asleep. But the Pequannock junior still remembers when he didn’t think the water was the place for him.
He began swimming with the Pequannock Piranhas in 2006, following his older sister Angelika onto the summer team because their mother wanted to stop chasing him all over the beach during meets.
Kyle Stefanides “looked like some kind of dying animal,” flailing around in the water. But those first experiences helped shape him into a success.
The All Daily Record Swimmer of the Year for the second straight season, Stefanides only improved this winter. Along the way, he helped Pequannock earn its best season in recent memory.
Now a Piranhas coach during the summer, Stefanides also dove in to teach his high school teammates. He remembered when his summer coaches would leave extra time at the end of practice to show him how to dive – something he did with the Panthers this winter. He also gave tips on stroke technique, and basically acted like a captain alongside Angelika, now a senior, and her classmate Ed Mann.
“When I was a little kid, the coaches put up with me – and I was not great at the time,” Kyle Stefanides said. “That’s kind of what I do now for the kids who have a lot of trouble. I help them out, and I guess I can relate, because at one point that was me.”
Stefanides defended his Morris County titles in the 200-meter IM and 100-meter backstroke. He also clocked the quickest butterfly split as Pequannock’s medley relay placed sixth.
Stefanides’ favorite events are the 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly, now that he’s gotten better at holding his pace over the second half of the race. He had a personal best of 1:55.5 while finishing seventh in the IM at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions two weeks ago – which is also the fastest in the Daily Record area this winter. Stefanides also clocked an area-best backstroke time of 53.11 in the MOC prelims, and finished sixth in the consolation final.
Swimming IM, backstroke, butterfly and occasionally the 50 free, Stefanides did not lose a high school race until the Meet of Champions.
“I always describe him as calm, cool and collected,” Pequannock coach Rob Wenzel said. “He keeps to himself a little bit, but is very much a competitor.”
Stefanides’ swimming became more serious in middle school. He was playing soccer at the same time, and realized he preferred the individual nature of swimming to the big group. He was also finishing at the top of his age group with his Wayne-based club team, Blue Streaks. His progression only improved after a move to the Lakeland Hills YMCA in 2010.
Stefanides trains at LHY for at least two hours a day, six days a week, frequently going straight from high school meets to club practice during the winter.
“That’s when I have a ton of time to really think about stuff … school work and what’s going on at home,” he said. “That’s really all the time I have, because when I get home I just do homework and go to sleep, and I have school the next day. I don’t have much time to think for myself.”
On rare breaks from swimming, he enjoys going to the beach at his family’s vacation home in Fort Myers, Fla. He also plays golf with his father, Angelo Stefanides, but admits, “I’m nowhere near as good at golfing as I am at swimming.” His best school subject is computer-assisted drafting, and he and Angelika love to watch SpongeBob SquarePants. Their youngest sister, Isabella, is an eighth-grader and a club swimmer.
“He wound up being better than me,” Angelika said. “He was a little discouraged in the beginning, and didn’t love it so much. As he got better, he progressed and really started to love it.”