Senior swimmer flying toward the top

Youngest member of the Burton family looks to end career among state’s elite

Henry Burton is not your typical high school senior.

The ASB Vice President is also a National Merit semifinalist, and, as many would argue, the best swimmer on the Hood River Valley High School team, which begins competition Dec. 2.

By the same respect, Henry’s family is not your typical family. His older brother Oliver, a 2001 graduate from HRVHS, was a National Merit finalist and a varsity swimmer for all four years of his high school career.

Their older sister, Ingrid, swam varsity for two years and currently participates on the Columbia Gorge Masters team.

Meanwhile, their father, David, started officiating for Oregon Swimming nine years ago, and in 1996 he became a referee. Last but not least, their mother, Marni Henrikson, started doing paperwork for Oregon Swimming about 12 years ago, and when Henry was 10, she started compiling stats.

“Oregon Swimming is all volunteer-based, so when you’re a long-time parent, you’re kind of expected to contribute,” said Henry. “My dad volunteers by refereeing, and my mom keeps records. She compiles the Top Five list and keeps track of records for the whole state.”

The Top Five list is a compilation of the best times of all events for a given age group, and it is not unusual for Henry’s name to appear there.

“When I was 10, I was at the top of the list for breaststroke,” he said, “and the following spring I was number one in about six events.”

A person doesn’t achieve those kinds of results without first having a lot of practice and working hard to get there. And by the time Henry had reached the top of the Top Five lists, he had already been swimming for seven years.

“I started taking lessons when I was 3 and swimming competitively when I was 5,” Henry said. “Oregon used to have a state championship for swimmers 6-and-under, and when I was 6, I won a couple events.”

Starting early seemed to pay off for Henry, and his winning streak continued. When he was 8 years-old, he took first in the state in five events, and when he was 10, he won state in two events. He then proceeded to compete in the regional meet, earning two second place finishes.

After competing at the regional level, Henry went on to place eighth in the Western Zone meet, swimming against kids from 12 other states.

The next spring Henry won six events at state. He also received the High Point award, an honor that goes to the one swimmer in each age group that scores the most points.

“It’s really neat to remember that,” Henry said. “It was really exciting.”

Henry’s swimming career stayed strong over the next few years, and when he started swimming for the high school team, he had something — or better, someone — new to push him along: Oliver.

“I had someone’s footsteps to follow in, and it allowed me to gauge my progress,” Henry said.  “I would ask myself, ‘Where was Oliver two years ago?  Where am I now?’ It’s good to have someone with times that are close to yours in practice.”

Practice wasn’t the only place that Oliver gave Henry the extra boost he needed. “My sophomore year Oliver and I took first and second in the 100-yard fly at district,” Henry said. “In prelims, I swam the heat before him. My time was only two-tenths of a second behind his. I didn’t know how well he would do in finals, but I did know that he wasn’t having a particularly good meet, and I wanted to swim the best race I could.

“We were both in the finals, completely oblivious to other people,” he added. “I was mentally prepared and had some competition to chase.”

After Oliver graduated in 2002 and moved on to Williams College, Henry had to fend for himself. “That’s one of the reasons I think I didn’t do as well as I could have last year,” Henry said. “Because Oliver was gone. There was no one right ahead of me to keep up with. It’s harder to swim on your own.”

With Oliver’s departure, Henry needed to find people that would help him improve his skills, so he joined a swim club in Hillsboro.

“I went to Hillsboro because I decided that I wanted a really good training group,” Henry said.  “After last year, I thought that I could do better. I didn’t think I had the training base that I needed."

Henry wasn’t diving into a completely foreign community in Hillsboro, though. He was swimming for Tony Magden, the coach that helped him win five state events when he was 8.

“I knew the coach and I liked him. That’s part of the reason I went to Hillsboro,” Henry said.  “He’s made a big impact on me both times I’ve swam for him.  He expects a lot in practice and really believes in you.”

After training at the Hillsboro club, Henry feels confident about the upcoming season. And his coach, Jane Nichols, said she has faith in him.

“He has a more obvious desire now,” she said. “It was always there, but with the extra swimming he did over the summer, he has the tools to accomplish what he wants. He wants to make it to state and do very well, and I think he’s going to be a threat.”

Nichols also holds Henry in high esteem for knowing exactly what he wants to accomplish.

“He’s an individual with a purpose,” she said. “The drive that he has is unusual for this level. If you get one like him at your school, you’re really lucky.”

With the drive, motivation and ability Henry possesses, he could potentially be a strong addition to any college swim team. But college-level swimming is not something that Henry is sure he will pursue.

“Right now, I’m focusing on four colleges,” Henry said. “One of them doesn’t have a pool or a swim team, so if I choose to go there, I won’t be competing for two years.”

Of the three remaining schools, Henry has a good idea about where he wants to go if he decides that swimming is a crucial factor in choosing a school.

“Williams has a good swim team and is probably the best option for me,” Henry said. “There would be people faster and slower than me, and that’s good for me.  Harvard and Yale are Division I schools and I would have to work really hard to make their teams.  In fact, I’m not even sure if I would.”

Nichols, on the other hand, clearly sees a future for Henry in college swimming ... if that’s what he wants to do.

“I see a future for Henry in swimming if he chooses to swim,” she said. “I haven’t kept up with college times, but I’m sure there will be a ways to go.  But when you gain maturity and you begin to settle into your body, it can come. Only time will tell.”

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