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Boys swimming: Stephen Castillo rises from adversity

Highland's Stephen Castillo celebrates after breaking pool record Boys 50 Yard Freestyle Finals during Highlboys swimming invite held HighlHigh School

Highland's Stephen Castillo celebrates after breaking the pool record in the Boys 50 Yard Freestyle Finals during the Highland boys swimming invite held at Highland High School on Friday December 28, 2012. | Charles Mitchell~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 2, 2013 6:24AM



Stephen Castillo didn’t have the weekend he was hoping for at last year’s boys swimming state finals.

But if anyone can put that sort of disappointment into perspective, it’s the Highland senior.

Castillo has had to deal with much more serious issues, ones most teenagers never have to face.

“There’s a lot of swimmers out there who don’t know why I swim,” said Castillo, whose parents Denise and Alfred both passed away in a two-year span between 2007 and ‘09.

“I was clinically depressed for two years (after his mom’s death),” Castillo said. “My dad helped me battle back. (Then) my dad got cancer.”

But Castillo has managed to cope with all that with the help of his brother Nick and the support of the Highland swim family. Now, despite not having the age-group background of most top swimmers, he has emerged as one of the state’s elite sprinters.

At last Friday’s Highland Invitational, Castillo opened plenty of eyes by winning the 50-yard freestyle in 20.63 seconds and the 100 free in 46.58. The former was a personal best and broke the pool record set by Chesterton’s Kyle Whitaker, the most decorated high school swimmer in Indiana history. The latter tied another pool record established in 1999 by Munster standout Jeff Lee.

Castillo even surprised himself with those swims.

“Originally, I went out to break the 100 free record,” he said. “I wasn’t planning on breaking the pool record in the 50 free.”

His task was made more difficult by a shorter than expected break between the races.

“His swims on Friday were a surprise,” Highland coach Ryan Harrington said. “I didn’t think he would be that fast.”

To put the 50 free time in perspective, consider that Adam Johnston — Castillo’s former teammate — won state with a 20.79 last season.

Now Castillo is ranked No. 1 in the state in the 50 free. He was seeded third in the 50 free and fourth in the 100 free at state a year ago before finishing ninth and 19th, respectively.

He and Harrington have talked a lot about how to maximize this year’s state-meet effort. One thing Castillo did was compete against some of the nation’s fastest swimmers this summer at Junior Nationals.

There he realized, “I’m not the best one out here. They’re plenty more that are better than me.”

So he took that as a challenge to raise his game.

“I’ve worked my butt off to get better,” Castillo said. “I’m swimming with a vengeance right now.”

And he has room to improve.

“That 50 he did (on Friday), he jammed the turn big-time,” Harrington said. “He could have gone 20.5, which is sick to think.”

From there, it’s a few more tenths of a second to the state-meet record of 20.11 set in 2011 by Brebeuf’s Harrison Wagner.

Those last few fractions of a second don’t come easily, obviously. But Castillo has faced tougher challenges in his life. And he’s overcome them.



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