After belly-flopping into the pool during his first swim meet at age eight, Hunter Kim (12) has grown to become one of the top ranked swimmers in the country at age 18. Late this past summer, he announced his commitment to Princeton University for swimming after fielding offers from several colleges.
Kim began competitive swimming when he was around seven years old, he said. Before Kim moved to Westchester County when he was 10, he used to live in upstate New York where he swam for a team called Monroe Woodbury, he said. Once he moved to Westchester, he joined the Westchester Aquatic Club for four years before switching to the Badger Swim Club. At Badger, he is coached by John Collins, who has trained several world champions and has been named “Coach of the Year” by the American Swimming Coaches Association, Kim said.
“When I began swimming, I never thought that I would [swim] to get into college, but I just really enjoyed it,” Kim said. However, after ranking third in the country in the 100 meter breaststroke when he was 10, he began to realize what he could accomplish in the sport, he said.
One of Kim’s teammates on Badger Swim Club, Justin DiSanto, met Kim when he was 10, he said. “When he joined our team, he took off tremendously, worked very hard, got fast really quickly, and he really hasn’t stopped since then,” DiSanto said. “As a teammate, he’s a great person to swim around because he pushes everyone, but we’re still able to have fun and joke around at practice.”
“Hunter is ultra competitive with a lot of perseverance,” his teammate Matthew Fenlon said. “He’s just somebody who you want on your team because he’s always very supportive and will point out things that you can improve.”
Fenlon always knew that Kim had the potential to be recruited since they began swimming against each other at age 12, he said. “We’ve been training partners for the last four years, and I’ve always known that he has the talent and work ethic to make it to the next level,” he said.
Collins said that swimming at Kim’s level is extremely difficult because he isn’t just competing against swimmers from his town or even his state, but rather against some of the best swimmers in the country. Kim has a commitment to improving and understands how hard he needs to train in order to be competitive against people around the country who are doing the exact same thing, Collins said.
Although Kim has already committed to Princeton, his high school swim career isn’t over yet.
Kim has been trying to qualify for next year’s Olympic Trials in the butterfly and individual medley (IM) events, Collins said. The IM requires swimmers to use all four strokes during the event, a true test of versatility, he said.
Kim missed the cutoff for Olympic Trials in the 200 meter IM, 400 meter IM, and 200 meter butterfly by just 0.6, 0.9, and 2.0 seconds, respectively, he said. “This year, I have a good shot at qualifying for all three events,” he said.
Before the pandemic, Kim attended one meet every month, including higher-level ones such as Summer Juniors and Summer Nationals. “At some high-level meets, before finals, they’ll have the top eight kids in a room before they walk out to the starting blocks, and the energy within that room is just something you can never experience anywhere else,” Kim said.
At these high-level meets, there are usually college recruiters scouting for new prospects, Kim said. USA Swimming recently changed their process to allow coaches to talk to swimmers much earlier than before, beginning as early as June 15 after one’s sophomore year, he said. On June 15, Kim had already been contacted by coaches from the University of Pennsylvania, Yale, Princeton, University of Virginia, and University of Michigan, among many other colleges.
Collins knew Kim had the potential to be recruited when he saw the talent and times Kim brought, he said. The trusting relationship between a coach and an athlete was a large part of helping Kim get recruited, Collins said. Kim had confidence in the choices Collins made for him to prepare for races, Collins said.
“Although Kim is not as physically imposing as many of his competitors, his major development in the last few years has been with his mindset,” Collins said. “He has become much more confident with racing, which, coupled with his work ethic, has made him a very dangerous opponent.”
“Confidence in racing is something you naturally develop through success, however small and insignificant those successes are, and every time you feel good about a race it naturally seeps into your ego and boosts your confidence,” Kim said.
Kim didn’t expect coaches to reach out to him so early, but after several coaches contacted him, he decided to visit his final four list of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia at the beginning of his junior year, he said.
“During the official visit to Princeton, they take you on campus for 48 hours and allow you to practice with the team, which is really important to me because you get to experience the energy that the team has,” Kim said. “My club team is pretty quiet and kind of competitive, but at Princeton the team is really positive and cheering each other on.”
After visiting Princeton, Kim knew that the combination of academic rigor and strength of the swim team was the right fit for him, he said.