State-qualifier's hard work pays off in the pool

Austin Rohrer spends so much time in the water, he might just grow fins.

Like many year-round swimmers, the Concord High senior practices and competes with two teams during the winter months.

On weekdays, he typically trains for more than two hours with NOMAD, his competitive swim team, then drives straight to the Spiders' practice, where he's in the water for nearly another hour-and-a-half.

Over the years, the extra commitment has paid off. He enters his final high school season as a five-time state qualifier and a hopeful for his first South Piedmont Conference title.

Rohrer first hit the water as a 10-year-old with the Concord Swim Club. He soon turned to the Metro Area Swim Club, a year-round swim program based in Concord until it folded in 2009.

As a 14-year-old, Rohrer qualified for the National Junior Olympics meet at Charlotte's Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center.

He qualified in two events, including the 200-yard butterfly in which he placed 14th.

Even in his high school years, the butterfly became one of his best events. But Rohrer failed to qualify as an individual for the high school state championships his first season. He faults himself for not taking the right approach that year.

"I went in to the season a little over-brazen," said the 18-year-old. "But it helped me learn how to become a team leader. Seeing how my attitude was and how everyone else saw my attitude helped me become a better teammate."

Rohrer was a member of the 200-yard medley relay team that reached the state meet his first season at Concord.

He swam the butterfly leg as the team placed 19th. He learned just as much, though, by observing a group of talented seniors that won the state title in the 200-freestyle relay: Joe Martin, Eric Johnson, Ben Ritchie and Robert Beasley.

Rohrer soon developed an appreciation for how team-oriented high school swimming can be.

Along the way, he's also nurtured characteristics that eventually turned him into a team captain for his senior season.

As a sophomore, Rohrer finished in third place in the 200 individual medley and fourth in the 100-butterfly at the conference meet. At the 3A state meet, he placed 14th in the 100 butterfly and 24th in the 200 medley.

Last season, Rohrer added the 500-yard freestyle to his repertoire. His results improved in the state championships, as he finished eighth in the 500 freestyle and 12th in the butterfly.

Concord swimming coach Ray Morgan appreciates Rohrer's work ethic and respect for the sport, which has turned Rohrer into an ideal mentor.

"He's an intense swimmer," said Morgan.

"There's no cutting up. He has fun doing it but he's very intense. He grits his teeth and he goes. That's something you can't coach.

"We point that out to the younger swimmers (saying) 'look at him, look at what he does.'"

Swimming is Rohrer's primary sport, but in the last few years, he also developed into a three-time all-conference cross country runner for the Spiders.

Though his running background was limited to a handful of 5k and 10k races, Rohrer decided to go out for Concord's cross country team as a sophomore.

He was the team's only all-conference performer as he trimmed his time by three minutes down to the 17-minute neighborhood by the end of the season.

In 2009, the Spiders not only won the conference but also qualified for the state championship meet. Rohrer was Concord's top runner in the race, finishing 34th overall leading the Spiders to a 12th-place finish.

Neither Rohrer, nor the Spiders, enjoyed the same success this season.

But Rohrer had a personal triumph when he ran a career personal best time of 16 minutes, 55 seconds at the mid-season Statesville Invitational, placing him seventh of 108 runners.

More than anything, Rohrer said, he wants to be a respected leader for this year's swim team.

That's a trait he wants to carry beyond high school graduation.

A member of the National Honor Society and the Habitat for Humanity Youth Council, Rohrer hopes to find out in January whether he has been accepted at one of the military academies - Air Force, Naval and Coast Guard - he has applied to.