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Christian Berg is headed to Southern Connecticut State University in the fall to be a part of a swim program where the coach, Tim Quill, has produced 109 men's and women's All-Americans and three NCAA Division II swimmers of the year.
"'Don't come to Southern if you're looking to get an easy career,'" Berg, a Fitch High School senior, said recently. "A lot of people choose Division II just so they can get a scholarship. … I know he's going to work the hell out of me. I like working hard. It makes me feel good, like, 'Wow, I got through that.' Life is full of hard work."
Berg, The Day's 2012-13 Swimmer of the Year, earning the honor for the second straight year, is already likely a high school All-American in the 100-yard backstroke.
He finished second in the State Open in the event on March 2 in a time of 50.44 seconds, narrowly missing the automatic qualifying time for All-American but earning consideration for the honor. When the top 100 times of the year are compiled across the country, Berg's time is a near shoo-in to be included among them, which would distinguish him as an All-American, a goal of which he dreamed.
Berg was named the Eastern Connecticut Conference Swimmer of the Meet earlier in the postseason, setting league records in winning the 200 freestyle (1 minute, 42.50 seconds) and the 500 freestyle (4:41.86). That gave him four meet records in his career.
He then set a meet record in the backstroke at the Class M state championship, winning in 51.45 seconds, as well as finishing fourth in the 200 freestyle in 1:44.76.
But Berg, at 17 years old already 6-foot-4, wasn't done. At the Open, contested at Yale University's palatial Kiputh Exhibition Pool, first Berg finished third in the 200 freestyle in 1:42.02, earning all-state honors in that event, as well. He then swam a career best in the backstroke, runner-up to Alexander Lewis of Greenwich, who swam a meet record and All-America time of 50.17.
Berg's parents Ken and Deb, as well as sisters Jess and Alivia, were in attendance that day. Alivia, a former two-time All-American and four-time all-state selection at Fitch, flew in from Colorado Springs, where she is a junior at the Air Force Academy.
"I was disappointed to lose," Berg said. "It's not like I got destroyed; it was a race between two good, motivated swimmers. I think I was most happy that Alivia came. She surprised me. I kind of saw her in the house and I was star struck, like, 'Why are you here?'"
Meanwhile, Berg's work ethic is not without its roots.
First, his dad is the Fitch swimming coach. It was Ken Berg's job the day of the State Open, as thrilled as he was to watch his son finally earn possible All-America recognition, to point out that Christian could have done better on his turns.
"My dad was always preaching to me that people who got second regret it," said Christian Berg, who admits to being afraid to disappoint his dad, but also grateful for the occasional well-timed push from him. "(Without it), I wouldn't be here talking to you right now (as Swimmer of the Year). I'd be home eating chips, wishing I made it to prelims (of states)."
Ken Berg is also a landscaper, owner of Tormberg Landscapes, Inc., in Groton. Christian has previously done work for him during the summer, laying brick and helping to cut trees.
"It's painful work," Christian said.
In addition, not only did his sister precede him as an All-American, but several members of the Fitch boys' team ahead of him were All-Americans, there to push Berg when he arrived as a freshman.
Despite often maintaining a seriousness on the exterior, Berg does love swimming. Among his goals are to win the NCAA championship in the 100 and 200 backstroke events and reach the Olympic Trials. It's why he chose Southern.
"The athletes we're looking for are the athletes that are looking to come in and work to their potential. He welcomes that," Quill said, asked about Berg. "We're proud of our accomplishments and our history, but it's funny how everybody forgets about all that. Our tradition, our dynasty is only as good as our personnel ... we're excited about our men's program. The kids we have coming in have a lot of talent and a lot of skill."
"I knew (Quill) produced really fast swimmers. I knew I would be working hard. It's all about hard work, being the best, no laziness," Berg said. "… I do have fun. I have fun winning. I have fun when the results are in."
Swimmer of the Year: Christian Berg (Fitch)
50 freestyle - Sam Magna (East Lyme)
100 freestyle - Sam Magna (East Lyme)
100 butterfly - Adam Opsahl (East Lyme)
100 breaststroke - Caius Mergy (Williams)
200 individual medley - Adam Opsahl (East Lyme)
200 medley relay - East Lyme (Zachary Kosakowski, Clayton Otter, Austin Toback, Eric Stirtan)
200 freestyle relay - East Lyme (Adam Opsahl, Eric Stirtan, Clayton Otter, Sam Magna)
400 freestyle relay - East Lyme (Adam Opsahl, Billy Dumais, Thomas Whittico, Sam Magna)
Diving - Dylan Luce (East Lyme)
Utility - Aidan Karam (NFA)