By Bill McLean
ILLUSTRATION BY BARRY BLITT
By Bill McLean
ILLUSTRATION BY BARRY BLITT
Vancouver native and Highland Park High School senior swimmer Kevin Obochi sits in the back row of his Statistics class this semester.
The teacher is Obochi’s swimming coach, Tim Sirois, who, if he wanted to shake things up one day, could teach History—HPHS Swimming History, specifically—to the math students instead.
All he’d have to do is ask the respectful, humble Obochi to stand at the front of the class. Coach Sirois could then inform all that the 6-foot-2, 175-pounder standing before them had recently become the first HPHS boy to win an event at the state swimming and diving meet since Bill Merkle captured the 100-yard backstroke title in 1986.
The coach, who’s retiring after the school year, could then add that Obochi had earned three other state medals, including a silver and a bronze, and paced the Giants to a fourthplace finish as a team at the FMC Natatorium in Westmont.
The last HPHS boys swimming and diving to have finished in the top five at the state meet was the fourth-place 1959 squad.
Not quite. Obochi could turn toward Sirois and then deliver a lesson in … class.
“Tim is a wonderful coach and leader,” the soft-spoken Obochi, sitting in a Highland Park coffee shop on a Friday afternoon, says. “He’s strict, takes the sport seriously. In my four years he never stopped reminding his athletes to be appreciative of the journey we were taking. He cared about us as people, not just as athletes, during the season. He’d often come up to us and ask, ‘How are you feeling? How’s school going?’”
How’s Kevin Obochi’s life going today, more than a month after he zipped to a statemeet- best time of 20:34 in the 50-yard freestyle, helped the Giants’ 200-yard freestyle team (with Ilya Rivkin, David Daniels, and Danny Castle) silver in a time of 1:23.09, and bowed for a third-place medal in the 100-yard butterfly (48.72)?
A son of Modi and Crystal Obochi and the younger brother of standout swimmer Tobe, he’s certainly bound for more success in the classroom and in the chlorinated pool water at Columbia University in New York. He set HPHS-record times in the 100-yard butterfly and the 200-yard Individual Medley races and churned on a pair of program-best relay units. The online streetwear brand Eek Clothing, which the future economics major launched during the pandemic in 2020, continues to attract customers—and address water scarcity.
Eek donates 15 percent of all profits from every garment sold to its Clean Water Project.
“We are working with villages in developing countries to provide access to clean water,” the clothing line’s website informs.
Kevin and Tobe participated in swimming, tennis, soccer, and karate as tykes. Mom and Dad eventually ordered each to pick one.
“We stuck with swimming,” Kevin says.
Each made Highland Park High’s varsity swimming and diving team as a freshman. Tobe would medal twice at the 2020 state meet in his senior season, touching fourth in the 50-yard freestyle and 10th in the 100- yard freestyle. Kevin’s big brother enrolled at MIT and, as a sophomore last year, won the 100-yard freestyle at the NCAA Division III national men’s swimming and diving national championship meet in Indianapolis.
“Big influence on me, a mentor,” Kevin says of Tobe, who still holds the HPHS program record in the 50-yard freestyle (20.19). “He’s a great guy, and I consider him a good friend. He put me on the right path when we were in high school together, stressing the importance of academics.
“I wanted to carry on the legacy he’d established at Highland Park High School,” adds the little brother, who, as a junior at the 2022 state meet, placed sixth in the 100-yard butterfly and ninth in the 200-yard freestyle.
Kevin Obochi experienced a range of emotions at the 2023 state meet on February 25, when he looked up at the FMC Natatorium scoreboard and realized he’d topped West Chicago High School junior Brady Johnson 20.34-20.5 for the 50-yard freestyle title.
“I was excited, but I also was sad, because it meant I was one race closer to the end of my high school swimming career,” recalls Obochi, who was seeded seventh in the event, based on the time he had clocked at a sectional meet the previous weekend.
His state-meet preliminary time of 20.47 ranked him second to Hinsdale Central senior Vidar Carlbaum’s 20.43.
“I loved knowing I’d get to be the chaser in the 50-free final,” Obochi says. “The race is adrenaline-based, and if you make one mistake during it, that’s it, forget about even thinking of winning it. When everything is working, and you’re going against the best, it comes down to who wants it the most.”
Obochi’s strength in the sprint event is the swimming segment; others rely on an electric start or an efficient wall turn to gain an edge on the field.
And he takes only one breath during the final 25 yards.
Proud Tobe shot a quick text message to Kevin after the victory.
“He wrote, ‘I still have my school record in the 50 free,’” a grinning Kevin says.
Kevin Obochi, who developed as a swimmer under Highland Park Aquatics Club coaches and joined Lincolnshire-based Patriot Aquatic Club two summers ago, served as a captain for the HPHS Giants in his final season. Other fellow 2023 state medalists, in addition to Rivkin, Daniels, and Castle, were Aron Fridman and divers Noam Kulbak (runner-up, with a point total of 365.35) and Alex Bradshaw.
Obochi, Fridman, Daniels, and Castle collaborated for a fifth-place time of 3:07.15 in the 400-yard freestyle relay.
“I owe so much to swimming for what’s going on in my life now,” Obochi says. “Swimming taught me discipline, in and out of the water. Swimmers need their sleep, so I had to finish my homework early. But I didn’t choose Columbia University because of its fine swimming program.
“I’m going there because of its diverse student body and because it’s the best fit for me academically.”
Highland Park High School’s historic athlete has a bright—no, blinding—future.
Visit eekclothing.com for more information about Kevin Obochi’s Eek streetwear brand and its mission to positively impact the world while inspiring youth through clothes.