Coetzer was built to be a swimmer
Mon. December 10, 2012 at 7:25 p.m. | By By Robert Demetrious | StarNews Correspondent
Following his arrival at N.C. State, Stephen Coetzer began training specifically for the backstroke. Photo courtesy of N.C. State Media Relations Office
Genetically, some people are just meant to do certain things. Those blessed with seven feet of height will be encouraged to play basketball. The fastest kid in gym class will entertain pleas from coaches to join the track or football teams. In Stephen Coetzer's case, he was built for the water.
"I wanted to play a sport," said Coetzer. "I sat down with my dad and he told me ‘You have a swimmer's body. You're a tall, lanky kid that can move.'"
Keeping it in the family, Coetzer has followed in his older sister's footsteps by pursuing swimming and is now on the team at nationally ranked N.C. State. His sister, Henni, was an All-American swimmer at Wingate University.
After swimming during his first two years of high school in Charlotte, he and his family moved to Wilmington. After a summer trip to his native country of South Africa, Coetzer wanted to dive into the sport with a purpose.
"I just had this desire to be dominant at something," said Coetzer. "And sports were the first thing I landed on. Plus, I gained 25 pounds that summer, so I seriously needed to lose weight."
Losing weight would be the least of Coetzer's challenges, though, as the tall, lanky kid transformed himself into an underwater missile.
"Training for swimming is the toughest," said Coetzer. "There are no breaks. No water breaks like other sports. We're swimming for two hours straight. You feel sharp pains throughout your body. At times, you think I can't do it anymore."
Through the pain, he learned to harness his emotions and strength to keep calm and swim on.
"My old coach instilled in me that I'm not going to die and I'm not going to drown," said Coetzer. "That no matter what you think or feel, there's always something left and you can do well."
At Laney High School, Coetzer still owns the best times in the 100- and 200-yard backstroke events.
"My training in high school really set me up," said Coetzer. "It put me on the ground running and gave me the opportunity to make a difference as a freshman."
Following his arrival at N.C. State, Coetzer began training specifically for the backstroke. As he shaved five seconds off his times, Coetzer produced three all-time N.C. State top-10 times, including the third-best time in school history in the 200 individual medley. He placed 11th in the 200 backstroke at the ACC Championships.
"I came into college telling myself I need to prove myself," said Coetzer. "My goal for myself is to be a difference maker. It's my goal to score in every individual event I swim."
As Coetzer continues to progress on the collegiate level, he also has aspirations of competing internationally.
Next summer, Coetzer will return to South Africa to train and compete. He is currently not a U.S. citizen (but is eligible to apply in a year), which means he is allowed to try out for the South African national team and a place in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
"It's still the very early stages of the process," Coetzer said. "To be able to represent South Africa in an international competition would make me unbelievably proud."