Senior Christian Keil (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
“Nothing has ever been given to me that I didn’t have to work really hard for. But, I’m not afraid of hard work. I thrive on it. Just like my family has done before me, I’m forging my own path and trying to be the best person I can be in every aspect of my life.”
Senior captain Christian Keil has begun a run of “firsts” in his family. The first man in his immediate family to go to college, first to be accepted to BYU, first to go on a mission and first one to swim collegiately. Following the trend of hard work, Keil has represented his family and has definitely made use of the talents he has been given as a gifted swimmer.
Hailing from south Oakland, Calif., Keil began swimming on a summer league when he was just 11 years old. He began swimming on the same league as his older brother Patrick but, unlike his brother, he stuck with it as he grew older. After joining a club team in high school where he began to swim year round he dropped his other sports, soccer and baseball, to focus more intensely on his swimming.
“I had an amazing club coach that really motivated me to push myself and take my swimming to the next level,” Keil said. “He was the guy who made me realize that I could go somewhere with my swimming and helped me get there.”
“Christian came to the USS club team from summer rec. leagues where they do only sprints,” Keil’s club coach, Greg Kubicki said. “That is a significant jump in workload and rarely do you see swimmers who can do it successfully. Christian was the exception.”
Keil also looks to his family for his source of inspiration and support.
“My dad is great example of hard work,” Keil said. “My dad came from New Zealand and made sure we were honest, worked hard and committed to everything we did. My dad is actually Samoan Irish and is a great example of where hard work can get you. I really look up to him.”
Keil’s family began in Samoa where his grandpa was raised. Keil’s grandpa moved from Samoa to New Zealand where he met his Irish wife. He then moved his family to America, where they currently reside.
“Being the first in my family to not only attend BYU in Provo, but to swim for the team, is a huge accomplishment for me and my family,” Keil said. “My favorite part about swimming is that it is mostly an individual sport. You have to push yourself and create your own success.”
Out of high school, Keil was presented with a few options and had some important decisions to make. He was also recruited by CAL, UC Irvine, and University of Pacific, all schools within California and closer to home.
However, he set up his first recruiting trip with BYU and it didn’t take long before Keil cancelled all other recruiting trips, deciding that BYU was where he needed to be.
“I knew I needed to come to BYU and although I knew my parents would have been supportive of me no matter where I went, I also knew they were very excited with my decision too,” Keil said. “It wasn’t always easy though.”
It was a bit of a culture shock coming out to a school that was predominantly LDS. Where Keil grew up, members were rare so it was easy to define himself as the “Mormon”. At BYU, the majority of students are members, so he was forced to redefine what he thought identified him.
“I remember calling my sister Anisha and having her reassure me,” Keil said. “She was a huge help to me my first year out here. It didn’t take long, though, for me to realize that I had made the best decision of my life.”
“Christian is the youngest and I am the oldest in our family and we’ve always had such a close relationship,” Christian’s sister Anisha said. “When he made the decision to go to BYU, it was such a big deal for our family. I knew that he would come to love everything about it.”
While Christian was the first to attend BYU Provo, Anisha attended BYU Hawaii.
“I knew that BYU would be a unique situation for him because of where we grew up,” she said. “But I loved BYU Hawaii and knew that spiritual as well as academic growth possibilities were higher there than any other university he could have attended.”
After swimming on the team his freshman year, Keil decided to serve an LDS mission and was called to serve in the Honolulu, Hawaii mission.
“I can’t think of anything in my life that has been more rewarding,” Keil said. “I don’t think anything can or will ever compare to it. It was awesome for me to be the first man in my family to serve. Coming back from the mission, I felt so much more mature and more stable in all aspects of my life, including swimming. I felt more composed and more able to help out and serve as a leader on the team.
“From the minute I started swimming at BYU, I have made some amazing friends and memories that I will have for the rest of my life.”
Not only has Keil made memories while at BYU, but some lasting impressions on the swim program as well.
This year at Mountain West Conference Championships, Keil lead as a crucial team member on the men’s 800 free, 200 free, 400 free and 400 medley relay teams.
In the 800 free, Keil and teammates John Kendrick, Jake Taylor and Chad Fong took the first place finish with their time of 6:32.64, earning them All-Conference with their NCAA ‘b’ cut time.
Keil also competed in the 400 free relay where the team took third with a time of 2:58.10, another NCAA ‘b’ cut time.
Keils contributions in other individual races as well as relays, helped the team finish second in the conference right behind UNLV.
As a senior captain this past season, Keil has lead the team and set the example for incoming freshmen.
“I think most people on the team would describe me as being pretty intense,” Keil said. “I take swimming very seriously and always have. It’s just a trait that’s carried over throughout the years and I think the intensity that I have helps to push my teammates. We’re always pushing each other to do our best and as the captain this year, I feel that I have a personal responsibility to help the team in that sense.
“This team has been more than just a team, it’s a brotherhood. That’s something that the other senior guys and I were striving for and the fact that we have this bond shows that we’ve already had success.”
Not only is the team relationship a close one, but Keil also attributes many of his successes, both in and out of swimming, to his relationship with his coaches.
“Our coaches are amazing,” Keil said. “They have coached me both in swimming and in life. I love that I can talk to them about anything. Although they’re older than me and have that position of authority, I still consider them my friends because that’s the type of relationship we share.”
Managing school and swimming is tough grasp, especially within Keil’s last year of swimming.
“It’s hard to find the right type of balance,” he said. “With swimming, it’s going to be hard to feel satisfied with my times this year. Even when I swim really fast, I always think I can do better. My struggle is going to be stepping away from this season and swimming all together and feeling satisfied with my accomplishments. I just want to know that I always did my best.”
Outside of swimming, Keil is studying communication disorders and plans to graduate in Dec. 2011.
“I really like how the study of communication disorders provides the ability to help and change the lives of others,” Keil said. “Communication with other people is very important and it’s amazing to see the change that people can make with the right help. It’s very rewarding.
“I don’t want a profession where I have to sit behind a desk everyday. I love working and interacting with people while making a difference in their lives.”
Although swimming has come to a close for Keil, he’s prepared himself and has plans for his future. What won’t change is the support he receives from friends and family.
“I got to know Christian pretty well and I’ve loved being able to keep in touch with him and keep up with all of his accomplishments,” coach Kubicki said. “I respect his dedication to every aspect of his life. My advice to him would just be that if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. He can succeed in whatever he wants to do in life, he just needs to keep up with the already amazing work ethic he has.”
“I know to Christian, the idea of finishing swimming is like the end of an era,” Anisha said. “But it’s really a chance for more possibilities. Swimming has opened doors for him and now he’ll have more time to explore other options in his life and cultivate his other interests. His life is headed in a new direction and I couldn’t be more excited and proud of him.”
Keil has accomplished a lot while at BYU. Whether it’s swimming or school, Keil has worked hard to better himself and in doing so, inspired others to do the same. He feels that being at BYU has taught him life lessons he wouldn’t have learned anywhere else.
“The fact that the gospel is integrated so much in everything you do, is amazing,” he said. “Even the small things like starting a meet or a class with a prayer is so helpful and gives us something that no other school has.
“Coming from an area in Oakland where there were close to no members, makes the BYU experience that much more special to me because I get to experience new things within the gospel and school.”
Although Keil looks forward to graduating from BYU and starting a new life, he will also miss the experiences and memories he has made while here.
“Once you’re a part of the BYU swim team, you’ll always have that camaraderie with the swimmers and coaches,” he said. “You’re always a part of the team whether you’re currently swimming or not. It’s all because of that bond we share, it’s a brotherhood that lasts forever.”