Perkins poised for trip to China

June 24, 2008, 5:27 p.m. (ET)

Swimmer is going for the gold on U.S. Paralympic team

DEL MAR - Roy Perkins doesn't have to work this hard. The Del Mar native is the owner of world records in the 50-and 100-meter butterfly and is ranked in the top five in the world in three other events.

Perkins doesn't have to spend his summer in a gym. With an acceptance to Stanford University in his pocket, he should be shopping for extra-long twin sheets and enjoying the last three months before his college career begins.

EARNIE GRAFTON / Union-Tribune Roy Perkins, 18, trains for the upcoming Paralympic Games in Beijing, at the Kearny Mesa Community Pool. He holds world records in the 50- and 100-meter butterfly and is ranked in the top five in the world in three other events.

Instead, Perkins is sweating through his shirt on a Tuesday afternoon, finishing another grueling core workout with trainer Jason Milosh before heading off to the pool, where he will put in a few hours with swim coach Don Watkinds. A bilateral below-the-elbow, below-the-knee amputee, Perkins' first encounter with a pool came at the age of 12 when his family moved to California and gave him swimming lessons as a safety precaution.

Since then, Perkins has set 20 American records and five Pan-American records and has traveled the world in the process. Named to the 2008 U.S. Paralympic team in May, he has one more spot to fill in an already bloated trophy case - a gold medal in Beijing.

"I've been looking forward to it for so long," he said, "but I still can't really imagine what it's going to be like."

Perkins will be part of the 20-member swim team that will travel to China in September and should figure prominently in the U.S. squad's fortunes. He is slated to swim in a whopping six or seven events this fall and will be the favorite in at least two.

He said the schedule will be hectic, but it will give him a chance to bring home a load of hardware if all goes according to plan.

"It's going to be stressful, especially since I'm doing so many events," he said. "But it's going to be exciting. I'm going to have to drop a lot of time, but I'm hoping to medal in some of those other events."

AdvertisementAlthough Perkins will be in China for the first time in his swimming career, he'll have familiar faces by his side. Kendall Bailey and Michael DeMarco, both members of Perkins' Peninsula Aquatics San Diego club, are also part of the U.S. roster.

"We've all been training for the same thing," Perkins said.

Which brings the story full circle to the La Jolla YMCA, where Perkins will grind out his weight-training schedule for the next two months in preparation for the biggest sports stage of his life.

"The hardest part was going to school during the day and having the energy to work out," he said. "I just need to make sure I'm on my game every day at practice. I definitely need (the coaches) on my off days."

Milosh, who has worked with Perkins for four years, the swimmer's off days are few and far between.

"He doesn't want to be told he can't do it," Milosh said. "If you tell him he can't, he's going to do it just to prove you wrong. This summer's no joke. He's an Olympian, and he's got to train like one. He's probably working out four hours a day."

One of the men entrusted with readying Perkins to compete at the highest level, Milosh said the two have developed a chemistry that will be essential during the upcoming weeks.

"It's frustrating at times because I can't sense what he's feeling," Milosh said. "With an able-bodied athlete, I could do the (exercise) motion, but he's very understanding."

And with the pressures of school, training and four years of Olympic-sized expectations surrounding his pupil, Milosh said his own job can be as simple as taking Perkins' mind off the work at hand.

"I sense (nervousness) a little bit," he said. "I try to stay as balanced as I can. I like to think I can let him (escape). I have one focus for him: to get him ready to swim. Let's just work out and talk about movies or something, escape from reality."

Watkinds has trained Paralympic athletes for years and believes the London games in 2012 could be Perkins' best, after his body and experience have caught up to those of his competitors. But Watkinds also knows the kid he first spotted at the San Diego Triathlon Challenge has the raw material to be a world champion in a few months.

"He swam well, and he looked like he wanted to get better," Watkinds said. "All I'm interested in is people trying to get better."

To say Perkins has a lot on his mind these days would be an understatement. Add to the training and the Paralympics perhaps the most important event of all - the arrival of his first car, complete with a retrofitted steering mechanism and accelerator - and it would be hard to blame him for taking a day off now and again. Instead, Milosh says, Perkins is moving full speed ahead with his summer workouts.

"This is why I got into this business," Milosh said. "It's rewarding to work with people of this caliber both morally and from a talent standpoint."

As the intensity of the workouts increases, he said Perkins has one area that could use improvement.

"I'm still trying to get him to eat his veggies."