They refer to it colloquially as The Box, a symbol of stature that carries more weight than the sum of its contents.
It’s a collection of Team USA gear sent to swimmers who will represent the country in international competition, a landmark experienced by Team Santa Monica club members Jordan Wilimovsky and Brendan Casey.
Last month Wilimovsky, a Malibu High alumnus, captured a bid to the 2016 Olympic Games with a victory in the 10-kilometer open-water race at the FINA World Championships in Russia. Casey, who graduated from Santa Monica High, has been a member of the U.S. junior national team and won gold in the 10k event at last year’s Junior Pan Pacific Championships in Hawaii.
“It’s cool when that box arrives,” TSM coach Dave Kelsheimer said. “It reminds you what an honor it is to represent the United States. Any time you walk into a venue, that’s where the eyes are. It’s pretty special that these guys have worked that hard to reach that level.”
Wilimovsky and Casey are the torchbearers of tradition for Team Santa Monica, which this year is celebrating its 60th anniversary.
Both are taking a year off from college to pursue their swimming dreams, Wilimovsky from Northwestern University, Casey from the University of Virginia. Both spend countless hours training at Santa Monica Swim Center. And both are longtime members of the locally based nonprofit swimming club, which provides athletic opportunities for children of all competitive abilities.
“These guys work extremely hard,” Kelsheimer said. “They’re willing to work to take risks, take chances. I have so much respect for them, as people first and athletes second. They wouldn’t be the athletes they are without being the people they are.”
Wilimovsky, who began swimming around the age of 9 because he wanted to be a junior lifeguard, joined TSM when he was about 14. He has made rapid progress over the last six years, thanks in no small part to the guidance he’s received from Kelsheimer and other club coaches.
Wilimovsky said returning to Santa Monica as he ramps up for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro was an easy decision.
“I’ll get more individual attention on what I need to do,” he said.
Casey, meanwhile, joined Team Santa Monica in kindergarten to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Aaron, and he is now angling for a spot on the U.S. senior national team.
As a freshman at Virginia, Casey took fifth place in the 1,650-yard freestyle race at the Atlantic Coast Conference finals. He holds TSM records in eight short-course events and four long-course events, according to club archives.
Casey said he’s motivated by Wilimovsky’s success and that Kelsheimer helps him see his potential.
“At first you don’t believe him, but it comes together,” Casey said. “You have to be resilient and know it’s worth it as long as you always try your hardest.”
Kelsheimer readily acknowledges that very few of the club’s swimmers will ever compete on the international level. But he believes the presence of athletes like Wilimovsky and Casey has a positive impact on other members.
“It’s not just about the guys who make the USA team,” he said. “When you have a world-class program, everybody benefits. Everybody sees what excellence looks like. The kids can say, ‘I can be great, too.’ There are tons of kids learning how to swim, staying safe in an oceanside community and learning valuable lessons about hard work and dedication.”
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.