As he dives head-first into life at SIU, Kegan Skelton juggles the life of a college freshman with the responsibility of a collegiate athlete.
With the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament only two meets away, Skelton said he has found himself in the midst of a whirlwind full of undergraduate studies, daily diving practice and the continuous problem of having to occasionally miss class for meets.
Although he wasn’t offered any scholarships, Skelton said he had choices for college and SIU seemed to be a natural fit.
“I looked here, Eastern Michigan, and West Virginia, but I loved the environment at SIU,” said Skelton, a freshman from Champaign studying education. “It’s great that it’s always 10 degrees warmer in southern Illinois than in Champaign.”
In high school, Skelton made three years of All-State honors, and he not only qualified for IHSA four years in a row but also took home first places his senior year. He said it was all of his accomplishments that made the idea of swimming in college a no-brainer.
But diving wasn’t always Skelton’s sport of choice; The diver has been a gymnast since he was a child and learned to tumble. When Skelton was in eighth grade, he met Don Waybright, also a former gymnast, and the two began to work together. Because of an absence of a gymnastics program at the high school and middle school level, Waybright and Skelton began to work specifically on diving, and Waybright came to be Skelton’s high school coach.
“Kegan got really good really fast,” Waybright said. “I started to work with him in the eighth grade and continued to work with him through his years at Centennial High School.”
With one semester under his belt, Skelton said the daily challenge of balancing diving and homework sometimes discourages him. However, he said the ability to focus he has gained through diving has trained him to block outside influences, as well as staying optimistic.
“The mapped out life of morning and afternoon practices, meets and study sessions are all very stressful for him,” said Kim Skelton, Kegan Skelton’s mother. “Not to mention leaving home for a university where he didn’t know anyone.”
Skelton’s family and former coaches said the preparation needed to succeed as a collegiate athlete was instilled in him long before SIU. Waybright said the swimmer’s own natural ability and his focus have allowed him to accomplish more than before.