CHARLOTTESVILLE — Swimming the 500-yard freestyle is a tough race.
The contest consists of 20 lengths of a 25-yard pool, back and forth, usually in less than 10 minutes. Despite its rigors, the event is one of Levi Lewman-Lockhart’s favorites, and it has taught him about endurance.
Lewman-Lockhart, a student at Eastern Hancock High School, has had his struggles both in the water and in the classroom. There were times when certain subjects got the better of him, and his assignment grades slipped to C and occasionally D.
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Swimming was the prize. It kept him focused and on track to graduate because school rules require student-athletes to have passing grades, Lewman-Lockhart said. With a little extra studying and guidance from his teachers, he always managed to get his course grades up to a B or even an A.
That persistence has paid off. Lewman-Lockhart swam with the team each season and racked up enough credits not only to graduate but to do so a year ahead of schedule.
He’ll walk across the stage in the Eastern Hancock High School gymnasium June 6 with the rest of his classmates. He said he plans to attend IUPUI to become an X-ray technician.
“(Swimming) really pushed me to do well in school,” he said. “If we didn’t have a C or higher, we weren’t allowed to swim. I was really surprised with myself, actually, that I was able to keep my grades up.”
Lewman-Lockhart joined the swimming program at Eastern Hancock in seventh grade. At that time, he admits it was a rough patch for him. His grades weren’t the best, and he was a bit of a troublemaker. He became a common face at the district Friday Night School, a detention-like program for students the schools identify as having disciplinary problems.
In those days, college courses and potential career paths were too far in the future to cross Lewman-Lockhart’s mind. He always assumed he would be successful somehow, he said; somehow, he would graduate with a good GPA, and somehow, he would end up in college, working his way to a worthwhile career.
What the younger Lewman-Lockhart — the one who skated by with C’s and D’s and got into fights with other students — didn’t realize, was that those milestones take hard work.
“I didn’t realize it was going to be such a long haul,” he said.
Teacher Heather Toney helped him identify some areas to work on, he said. With help from her and a few other teachers, Lewman-Lockhart grew more confident in himself and his academic ability. He said he made a resolution that year: No more stepping out of line — and a lot more diligence.
Over time, his teachers noticed positive changes, Toney said. They watched as Lewman-Lockhart grew out of a difficult time and into the patient and hardworking person he is today, she said. Sure, he remains an average student, but his attitude, work ethic and the lessons he’s learned have put him head and shoulders above his peers, she said.
“He did struggle a bit, but he has gotten better with time,” Toney said. “Here, we call it grit; he works really hard, and it’s paid off.
“He’s an incredible person, and I know whatever’s next for him, he’ll be great.”
If Toney was the teacher who got him to change his course, swimming was the activity that kept him in line, Lewman-Lockhart said, and this year was by far his more rewarding.
The program was taken over in 2014 by head coach Derek McCormick, who gave a “strict verbal warning,” as Lewman-Lockhart phrased it, that his athletes maintain high academic standards.
The team discussed their grades at least once a week, McCormick said. He believed academics needed to be first priority for his student-athletes.
From the first time he met Lewman-Lockhart, McCormick said, it was clear the young man was bright. As the swim season continued, it became even more apparent that he wasn’t just a dedicated athlete but the team’s biggest cheerleader.
“He was our top swimmer this year when it came to attitude,” McCormick said. “He was always encouraging his teammates and the loudest one cheering during races.”
Encouraging others comes naturally, Lewman-Lockhart said. This school year, as part of Eastern’s service learning class, he began volunteering at the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen. The hours he has spent there have taught him to open to others, learn from experiences and keep pushing through the obstacles ahead, he said.
As he leaves Eastern, he wants struggling students to know that with a little dedication to themselves and their futures, they can be successful, even if there are bumps along the way.
“I would encourage them … to go look over their homework and look at what they missed and why they missed it, because maybe the teacher sees something that they aren’t seeing,” he said. “It helps you understand. I was proud that I was able to go up to my teachers and ask for help.”