IN THE SPOTLIGHT
The one who unashamedly wears his faith on his sleeve has become an ace up the sleeve for the Highland Park High School boys swim team.
Richard Heller is more than just a fast swimmer and a devout Christian. The junior also has proven to be a quick healer.
His season appeared to be in jeopardy a few months ago. It looked to be tatters.
Just before the 2017-18 season commenced, Heller went on a retreat with his church youth group to the Phantom Ranch Bible Camp in Mukwonago, Wisconsin. And that’s when the game of tetherball got the better of him.
Being competitive comes naturally for Heller. So, he might’ve overdone it a little that day. On one of his hits, he sustained a labrum tear in one of his shoulders.
“I heard it pop,” said Heller.
He managed to avoid surgery. But his arms had to take an eight-week sabbatical.
As good as ever.
So, instead of kicking back and taking it easy, Heller jumped right back into the pool. He went all in by going all out. He put on some fins and tirelessly — and exclusively — worked on underwater drills.
“He spent his practices just kicking,” said HP head coach Tim Sirois.
And now, he’s back. Better than ever.
All that kicking helped to kick-start his comeback.
Heller competed in four events — 200 medley relay, 100 butterfly, 100 backstroke and 400 freestyle relay — and was instrumental in keying the Giants to a solid third-place team finish (326 points) behind rivals Glenbrook North (386) and Deerfield (341) at the Central Suburban League North Meet at Maine West on Feb. 10.
He was as good as silver in the 100 butterfly. He was clocked in 55.92 and stayed right on the heels of Glenbrook North’s Zander Johnson (55.89).
“Swimming a 55 today means the world to me,” said Heller. “I didn’t know what to expect coming into that race. Just wanted to see what I could do.
“Doing all of that underwater work was the whole reason why I did well,” he added.
In the 100 back, Heller got a chance to square off against two of the league’s most celebrated swimmers: HP’s Andrew Vorobev and GBN’s Ryan Purdy.
And to his credit, Heller hung right with them. He came up with a respectable third-place finish (56.90), while Vorobev (54.12) outkicked Purdy (55.51) for the gold.
Heller teamed up with Vorobev, Jake Reisner and Tobe Obochi and helped the Giants to a second-place finish (1:42.68) in the meet-opening 200 medley relay.
Then, in the final event of the meet, he shared exchanges with Vorobev, Obochi and Konrad Schmidt in the 400 free relay, which took third in 3:26.17.
“Heller is a versatile swimmer for us,” said Sirois. “One of our captains.”
He swims with a purpose. He lives for a purpose.
Heller certainly doesn’t try to conceal his faith in God. He’s not afraid to put himself out there
He wears a cross necklace — that he got from a Christian sports camp — and an AO1 (Audience of One) wristband — that identifies him with the movement that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz founded.
“AO1 comes from Colossians 3:23,” said Heller.
“Words to live by,” he added.
Being a team captain fits well with Heller’s leadership traits. He’s become pretty good at taking charge.
As part of the ministry team for the high school youth group at Christ Church, Heller is president of the student-led North Shore #HowToLife outreach ministry.
“My faith is real,” said Heller. “I started taking it seriously a couple of years ago. God has opened a lot of doors. He’s working in my life.”
Being athletic has been a blessing for Heller.
In addition to swimming, Heller runs cross country and track at the school. In the fall, he ran a three-mile time of 16:54.5 at the Lake Forest Regional (36th place).
Last spring as a member of the HP track team, he ran the 400 meters, 800 meters and 4×400 relay.
He likes the challenge of those grueling races.
“I like to get after it,” said Heller.
More words to live by.
Notable: Junior Andrew Vorobev played a starring role for the Giants at the CSL North Meet. In addition to winning the 100 backstroke (54.12), Vorobev won the 200 IM in 2:00.60. … The team’s other first-place finisher was sophomore Tobe Obochi in the 50 freestyle (23.15). He added a runner-up finish in the 100 breaststroke (1:02.83). … Other swimmers helping the HP cause included Konrad Schmid (2nd, 200 IM, 2:05.36; 4th, 100 breast, 1:04.88), Alex Gordon (3rd, 50 free, 23.46; 3rd, 100 free, 51.49) and Steven Sirois (5th, 200 free, 1:58.22). … The Giants also earned points in the diving competition with Elliot Starkman (4th, 316.60) and Lucas Absler (5th, 313.90).