When Clemens Kaiser arrived in Rockville in August from his home in Pinneberg, Germany, the 17-year-old had one goal in mind — to set as many records in the pool as possible before he returned home at the end of the school year.
So far, so good as Richard Montgomery’s prized import has shattered the top times in program history while transforming the Rockets into a possible dark horse at the Montgomery County and Metros championships next month.
Kaiser’s journey to the United States began in 2008 when his German club team traveled from Pinneberg to its sister city of Rockville to train for two weeks. But Kaiser enjoyed his brief stay and the hospitality of his host family so much that he found a way to return the following year as a foreign exchange student.
“I had already been thinking about doing some form of exchange and then my host family asked if I’d like to come back to Rockville,” Kaiser said. “Since I already had the family situation set up, everything happened pretty quickly and it’s worked out really well. I already knew some of the swimmers on the team, so it was not like being pushed into cold water when you come to a completely new place, and I liked that.”
On a team loaded with freshmen and lacking in seniors, Kaiser has made an instant impact both in the pool and as a leader on the deck. His races alone fire up the team, but his talent and experience have enabled him to aid in coaching the team’s younger, non-club swimmers.
“I got an e-mail from his host family at the end of last school year letting me know they were going to have a foreign exchange student this year, but I had no idea he would make this kind of an impact on the team,” Richard Montgomery Coach Aryn Wheeler said. “He took a leadership role from the start, helping younger swimmers out by critiquing their strokes and helping with starts and turns. The kids really look up to him and they always get fired up watching him in the water.
After Saturday’s loss to Churchill, the Richard Montgomery boys fell to 0-3 in their first season of Division 1 competition. But the team has seen noticeable improvement and Kaiser continues to make waves at the top of the leader board. He won five of his six individual events in the three dual meets and helped the Rockets to victories in the 200 medley and 400 free relays. Kaiser has already set school records in the 100 (49.0), 200 (1:45.56) and 500 (4:42.50) free and the 200 IM (1:57.44) and against Churchill, he was a triple-winner, taking the 200 free, 100 back — an event Wheeler did not even know he could swim — and the 200 medley relay.
Records aside, Kaiser — who also swims with the Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club — has most enjoyed the experience of swimming with a team. His pool time has nearly doubled with nine practices a week compared to five with his German club, and while the competition can be intense at the club level back home, there are no high school swim teams and the atmosphere at meets is noticeably less spirited.
“It’s been pretty cool to experience this completely new system with high school teams,” Kaiser said. “High school sports have a lot of spirit and your teammates are always cheering you on. That’s totally different in the clubs in Germany because they’re more focused on their own times. Here every single person is standing and cheering for you, and that’s a good feeling to have when you’re swimming.”
With counties and Metros fast approaching, Kaiser has his sights set on leading the Rockets to a higher finish than last year in the former and qualifying for the A finals at the latter. And from what he has been told by teammates, the experience of the Metros meet is one he won’t soon forget.
“They told me it’s like a completely different meet,” Kaiser said. “There’s so much cheering and it’s super loud and everyone gets fired up and drops time. We want to set some more school records there and I’m really looking forward to it.”