Matt Truong still sees the hand, reaching from the beneath the water of a Florida pool, waving desperately.
Matt says he turned his back for 20, maybe 30 seconds to mind after his 3-year-old son, Darius. His 6 year old, Devin, was in the pool at their Cocoa Beach, Fla., hotel, but Matt wasn’t worried. Devin didn’t know how to swim and he had little doubt that he’d stay in the shallow end and keep his head above water.
But he discounted Devin’s social nature. Devin wanted to be part of the crowd, to laugh and play with friends. He had become friends with some other kids while his family was on vacation, and when they moved into the middle of the pool toward the deep end, Devin followed.
When Matt realized Devin was in trouble, he stormed into the pool, fully clothed and with pockets full, and grabbed Devin. His cell phone was fried. His son was safe.
“He would have drowned,” Truong says, recalling the event from four summers ago. “That was enough to convince him that he needed to float.”
And that’s how Devin Truong, one of the top 10-year-old swimmers in the country, found himself taking swim lessons, which led to summer meets in the Montgomery County Swim League and eventually to the Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club.
In the early stages of learning to swim, Devin would do a bizarre scissor kick and bring his head straight up to breathe. Matt says coaches called him “the kid that swims funny.”
But those days are gone. This year Devin has broken two 10-and-under RMSC records, one in breaststroke and one in individual medley. Nationally, among swimmers 10 and under he has the fastest 200-meter breaststroke (3:01.27) and the third-best 100-meter breaststroke (1:25.18).
“He’s improved a lot,” RMSC coach Dave Greene said. “Most kids that want to learn and are sort of driven, self motivated, usually improve a lot.”
Devin Truong is energetic and precocious. He stands just under 5-feet tall, and despite regularly celebrating his wins and records at Bob’s Noodle in Rockville, Devin’s favorite restaurant, weighs only about 80 pounds.
He is savvy about swimming and speaks of it with the authority of a professional.
“There’s always something that you have to improve on,” he says. “Your turn, your starts and your technique. I don’t even have a really good technique yet. I still have a lot of stuff I need to improve on.”
He acknowledges his success, but demurs and says he’s not the worst and not the best.
So what will it take to be the best?
“Beat the person that’s first.”
What’s your primary goal in swimming?
“At least one gold medal in the Olympics.”
Why not two?
“I said at least one.”
Devin swims year round for RMSC, as does his younger brother Darius, and competes for the Rockville Rays summer team on the weekends. Last summer Greene pulled Devin from practices with swimmers in his own age group and put him with other advanced swimmers. And even though Devin didn’t start swimming competitively until he was 8, Greene says his rapid growth is not unique or a surprise.
“He’s an athlete; I can’t teach him to be an athlete,” Greene says. “I can teach him to be a swimmer but I can’t teach him to be an athlete.
As for Matt Truong, he says he’s learned an important lesson as Devin has matured from a kid who couldn’t swim to a premier competitor.
“It actually convinced me more that you don’t know what [your children are] good at,” he says.