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Bermuda Swimmer Pride of Springfield

Roy Burch By Ron Chimelis

The Republican Company. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission

SPRINGFIELD - A tattoo adorns the right shoulder of Roy-Allan S. Burch, the one-man Olympic men's swimming team from Bermuda.

It is an illustration of the island others call a tourist paradise, but which he calls home.

"A lot of Bermudians complain about Bermuda, but not me," said Burch, a Springfield College student-athlete who hopes to put Bermuda on the global swimming map at next month's summer Olympic Games.

It's done so much for me. I want to do something for it," said Burch, 22.

Four years after his mother's death challenged his zeal to compete, Burch is hoping to at least reach the semifinals in the 100-meter freestyle, his only event in Beijing. No swimmer from Bermuda has ever done even that, let alone win a medal.

Bermuda's entire 2008 Olympic team, in fact, consists of only six athletes - two swimmers (Burch and female backstroker Kiera Aitken), two long jumpers in track, a triathlete and an equestrian rider.

"You would think an island would do well in swimming, but our main sports are soccer and cricket," said Burch, who leaves for Beijing on Aug. 3. "We won an Olympic bronze in boxing once, and have done well at times in track and sailing at the Pan-American Games, but I hope to do something better," he said. "Swimmers in the U.S. are used to the (necessary) level of intensity, but where I grew up, people are used to settling (for less). I'm hoping to raise the level of competitiveness, and build on that in the next four years."

Burch's highest Olympic goals are aimed at 2012 in London. His coach at Springfield College, John Taffe, said even making the 100-freestyle semifinals at Beijing will probably require lowering the 52.4-second time that stands as Burch's best.

"His events are determined by (fractions) of a second, though, so you never know," said Taffe, who has coached the Pride for 19 years, and calls Burch one of the school's all-time best swimmers.

"The environment will bring out the best in him, I'm sure of that," Taffe said.

Four years ago, Burch's motivation to be the best was waning. His mother's death was not unexpected, for it came after a 10-year bout with cancer, but was still devastating.

After that, swimming was on the back burner," Burch said. "I wasn't really in the mood. It was not something I was going to continue at a higher level."

Even so, Burch qualified for the 2007 world championships in Melbourne, Australia. "That was unexpected," he said. "It brought me back.

"I got the (Bermuda) tattoo after the worlds. I have such an appreciation where I came from."

In Bermuda, Burch grew up in Somerset Village. He now lives in Warwick. The entire population of Bermuda is about 66,000, and it remains a British overseas territory, but competes under its own banner.

While in the Springfield area, Burch has been working out at Healthtrax Fitness & Wellness in East Longmeadow, preparing for his trip to China.

Much as he loves Bermuda, Burch says it's different from the eyes of those who live there. "Living on an island can be claustrophobic," he said. "You have to get out sometimes." Burch left for the Peddie School in Hightstown, N.J., where he swam for one of the best prep programs in the United States. He'd considered delaying college for a year, but by the spring of his senior year, he became interested in Springfield College, a smaller environment with a respected swimming program and a business management major. Burch decided on SC that summer, a late arrival by college athletics standards. His career was one of juggling work, family considerations, academics and swimming, and Taffe said his schedule often demanded odd-hour practice times, with or without coaching supervision.

Taffe found Burch to be a man with his own views on training.

"We worked together, and I truly respected his opinions on a lot of what he did," the coach said.

Even an unconventional training schedule didn't keep Burch from competing at three NCAA championships, and breaking six school records in freestyle and backstroke events. In Bermuda, he set a national record in the 100 free, and broke his own mark in the 50 free.

As proud and excited as he is about these Olympics, though, Burch is also looking ahead. The 2011 world championships are in Shanghai, so he hopes the Beijing games will be his first of two trips to China.

By the 2012 Olympics, he will be 26. That is no longer old in swimming. "In our sport, people are hanging around longer, and doing much better in their mid-20s," Taffe said.

Impressed that Burch has done this well, despite an irregular training schedule necessitated by his life situation, Taffe thinks his best days may be ahead.

Burch still has one semester left at Springfield College. His college swimming eligibility is used up, but he might help with the coaching while completing his degree work, Taffe said.

First, he'll be one of two SC swimmers in Beijing. Justin Zook will represent the United States at the Paralympics, held in conjunction with the summer Olympics.

While the close-knit Springfield College community will be watching - "even if it's on at 2 a.m.," Taffe said - Burch hopes people in Bermuda will tune in as well.

He wants to do more than boost his own chances for the 2012 games. He wants to prove to his own people that international swimming success for Bermudians is no longer an impossible dream, but a reachable goal.

"My being there is a big deal to my family and those on the swimming scene," Burch said. "I couldn't tell you whether it is for others on the island, whether they are paying attention. That's for me to do, to try to make it known."

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Head Coach John Taffe

John Taffe John Taffe enters his 25th season in 2013-2014 as the head coach of the men's and women's swimming teams at Springfield College. Under Taffe’s leadership, the Pride has returned to its status as one of the best collegiate swimming and diving programs in Division III. Read more.

Contact Head Coach John Taffe

E-Mail | Phone: 413.748.3169

Diving Coach Peter Avdoulos

Peter Avdoulos Peter Avdoulos is regarded as one of the top diving coaches in the nation, and will enter his 29th season as the diving coach for both the men's and women's programs in 2013-2014. The current NEWMAC Women's and Men's Diving Coach of the Year, Avdoulos has coached countless All-New England and All-American divers, as well as several National Champions. Read more.

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E-Mail | Phone: 413.748.3445

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