‘Swimming has been my whole entire life’: Senior Kenneth Thien verbally commits to swim at Boston College

Two weeks after his verbal commitment, Thien wears a Boston College shirt and poses with an eagle claw sign for a photo to inform his friends and family about his verbal commitment. (Photo courtesy of Kenneth Thien.)

The senior class is usually in the same lane when applying to colleges, but senior Kenneth Thien has chosen to swim in a separate lane: college recruiting.

Thien began the college recruitment process his sophomore year when his coaches from Santa Clara Swim Club sent him college questionnaires and recruiting coaches contacted him during his junior year. After being scouted by several colleges, he decided to verbally commit to Boston College (BC) on July 24.

“Ever since I started swimming, my parents have been taking me to practices and meets, so it was finally nice for something to pay off for me and them, since they don’t have to really worry about the college application for me as much,” Thien said.

Thien still has to complete an application like the rest of the Class of 2021, but he can only apply to BC. In November, he will sign the National Letter of Intent to solidify his college admission and agree that he will attend and swim for BC.

“I remember when I first joined [swimming], I was not fast at all,” he said. “My friends helped me throughout that process and I am here now because of them. Swimming is really competitive but also has a supportive atmosphere.”

Thien started swimming when he was eight years old, but it took him a year to start enjoying the sport and attending practices and meets since he got to know his teammates and coaches.

For the past seven years, he has competed with his designated stroke—breaststroke—at meets in the 100-yard and 200-yard events. The 100-yard breaststroke consists of four 25-yard laps, while the 200-yard breaststroke contains eight 25-yard laps. Swimmers usually compete in one of the four strokes: freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke or butterfly.

“Breaststroke is my fastest stroke compared to everyone else [and] I’ve never changed to any other strokes,” Thien said. “My other strokes aren’t as great compared to my breaststroke.”

Thien competes in the 200-yard breaststroke at the 2017 Sectionals in La Mirada, CA. (Photo courtesy of Kenneth Thien.)

Thien switched from the Valley Splash swim team to the Santa Clara Swim Club two years ago because the team had more opportunities to compete at higher-level meets. Although he struggled at first due to the intense workouts at practices, Thien made significant improvements in his times and became more comfortable with racing teammates during practice.

Swimming has been my whole entire life,” Thien said. “Although there are a lot of moments where you definitely hate swimming or just hate whatever you’re doing, like school, there are always the times where you just love it when you spend time with your friends or have the best moments of your life, some life-changing moments.”

Thien warms down and talks to teammates after the 200-yard breaststroke race at the 2018 Oahu Grand Prix meet in Oahu, Hawaii. (Photo courtesy of Kenneth Thien.)

Before meets, Thien maintains a healthy diet, challenges himself to complete more workouts at home and attends practices. He listens to fast-paced music like EDM and songs by Drake to energize himself before his meet sessions, but listens to Taylor Swift and TikTok songs when he wants to feel calm.

Thien beat his personal record in the 200-yard breaststroke by four seconds at the Winter Junior Nationals, a West Coast meet, last December in Seattle.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, I know how well I’m going to do when I first start the race,” he said. “You just kind of feel if it’s going to be a good or bad race [when] you feel the water. If it feels effortless and not really tiring because of the adrenaline, then you’ll probably have a good race.”

His college recruitment prospects skyrocketed as more coaches approached him after the Seattle meet. His time standards qualified him for the Summer Junior Nationals, a nationwide meet, which was canceled due to the pandemic. Competitors will have to wait until the summer after the pandemic is over to compete at this yearly meet.

On the last day of the 2019 Winter Junior Nationals at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center, Thien poses for a group photo with his Santa Clara Swim Club teammates. (Photo courtesy of Kenneth Thien.)

Most of the colleges Thien looked into required Junior Nationals qualifying times, so recruiters looked at his times for the 100-yard and 200-yard breaststroke and compared his times with the college swim team’s time standards. His best times are 55.99 seconds in 100-yard breaststroke and 2 minutes 0.33 seconds in 200-yard breaststroke.

“The only thing you can control is doing your best,” Thien said. “I have had my fair share of bad times, [but] take what you can get from certain things and don’t think about it all the time. Focus on what you can do next, rather than what you just did.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he did not experience typical recruiting trips with overnight stays at campuses and shadowing college athletes. Instead, recruitment coaches contacted him after local meets and Winter Junior Nationals via emails, phone calls and virtual meetings.

After considering Thien’s passion for swimming, times and academics, coaches would decide whether to offer him a scholarship. Details about Thien’s offers are unavailable, as discussing recruitment offers is discouraged and kept confidential.

“I was really into a school in the West Coast, but after looking into [the colleges] and what I want to do in the future, not just swimming, I really liked Boston College and the [four-year Bachelor of Science in] Nursing (BSN) program they have,” Thien said.

Thien’s fastest times last season will make him the fastest breastroker at BC and a part of the Atlantic Coast Conference, where he will compete against universities in the same conference, such as University of Notre Dame and Duke University. Swimming for a college will be more competitive compared to club meets because of the level of talent in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Thien’s former Santa Clara Swim Club teammate Tim Chou—who will be swimming for Tufts University in Boston—frequently checked on Thien throughout his recruitment process, since Chou went through the same process the previous year.

“When he focuses on something, Kenneth is a super hardworking and dedicated person,” Chou said. “He has a really competitive nature when it comes to anything like video games, and that’s the same with swimming,”

Chou was surprised by Thien’s choice of BC because he thought Thien was leaning toward choosing a university on the West Coast because of the location, aura of the swim team and the school.

The only thing you can control is doing your best. I have had my fair share of bad times, [but] take what you can get from certain things and don’t think about it all the time. Focus on what you can do next, rather than what you just did.”

— Kenneth Thien

“I was quickly overcome with pride and excitement for his huge accomplishment of committing to a school,” he said. “Not only will we be in the same general location, but we will be able to see each other and compete against each other just like we [used to].”

Thien has spoken with ten BC student swimmers via Zoom calls and they informed him about the close team bond and new athletics facility and pool.

“I’m excited for the team atmosphere and how competitions are going to be around a team,” Thien said. “As a high school swimmer, you’re swimming individually to get into a school, but once you get into college, you have more of a team culture and you want to compete for others and yourself.”