TREDYFFRIN >> In the pool, Brendan Burns swims in the moment, refusing to let in any outside distractions. It is an uncommon trait for a 16-year-old, but the Daily Local News’ All-Area Swimmer of the Year is unique.
The Conestoga sophomore is so focused, he is able to block out everything except what is required to get from point A to point B as fast as possible. At the PIAA Class 3A Championships at Bucknell, Burns took the gold medal in the 100 butterfly in a personal best time of 48.06. But when asked about the race, he remembers very little.
“I honestly have a hard time remembering any of my races because I am pretty focused,” he said.
“I am an in-the-moment kind of person. I don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future. I can say that I’ve always wanted to win a state title so to get it was kind of a wave of relief that I’d finally done it.”
Less than 24 hours later, he secured a second state crown with a win in the 100 backstroke (48.51). Add in a couple relays and Burns helped deliver an astounding four top-four finishes and lead the Pioneers to a fifth place team finish.
“It has really sunk in yet, maybe just because the swimming season for me isn’t over yet,” said Burns as he was preparing for the YMCA National Championships, which took place last week, in Greensboro, N.C . “I haven’t really thought about that … wow.”
Wow indeed. Burns was the leadoff swimmer in ’Stoga’s 200 medley relay that placed second in the state, and was the anchor leg in the 400 freestyle relay that finished fourth. At states, he amassed automatic All-American times in three of four events, and All-American consideration in the other.
“Brendan said afterwards, ‘I’m not quite sure where that came from,’” said his head coach, Mark Tirone. “But I do. It came from his desire to win.
“He loves swimming and he’s very competitive. He is usually third or fourth in the relays because he has the desire that if anybody is ahead of him, he loves the game of trying to reel them in. He goes from start to finish with the intent of catching that guy, and most of the time he does.”
As a freshman, Burns showed up on the statewide radar quickly with a third in the in 100 butterfly and a ninth in 100 backstroke at Bucknell. On March 17 of the 2017 finals in the 200 butterfly, nothing was going to deny him — not even an awkward finish.
“The only thing from that race I remember is the final five yards — the finish wasn’t great,” he said. “I could have glided in, which would have slowed me down, so I took a kind of awkward third of a stroke into the wall. Luckily it didn’t matter because I finished pretty far ahead of everybody.”
With a couple top-two medals already secured, Burns was admittedly more relaxed the following day for the 100 backstroke. One of his main competitors was teammate and friend, senior Brian McKenrick, who wound up placing third.
“It was a chance for me and Brian to show everyone what we are made of as a team,” Burns recalled. “It was the first time we got to race head-to-head all season, so to be able to finally do it with a state title on the line, that meant a lot to both of us.
“He’s really been a mentor to me for as long as I can remember.”
At the District 1 meet, Burns won the 100 backstroke and set the district record in the 100 butterfly. He ended up being named the swimmer of the meet and the Pioneers finished runner-up to North Penn.
“That really surprised me,” said the Berwyn resident. “District 1 is the fastest of all of the districts, so it was a great honor.
“I went to states the previous year, and that combined with what happened in districts gave me a boost in confidence. It helped me relax. I was more nervous when I went as a freshman.”
At the Central League Championships, in an effort to change things up, Tirone put Burns in the 100 freestyle. He not only won the race but also registered an All-American time of 45.4. In all, Burns was part of four firsts and Conestoga cruised to the league title.
“He can swim — and has — every event for us except diving,” Tirone pointed out. “It’s very unique to have a high-quality swimmer that is so versatile.”
According to Tirone, Burns has natural talent. But what separates him is his level of dedication and commitment to training. He swims year round at the Upper Main Line YMCA.
“It takes a lot of dedication, but I love doing it so it doesn’t really feel like a sacrifice,” Burns said. “I just really enjoy the process. Swimming pretty much is my life, but it doesn’t feel that way.
“I have always been competitive. I have always felt the need to do my very best, and fortunately success has come with that for me. My fastest splits come when we are behind in a relay and need to catch up to win. That’s my go-to scenario.”