NEW YORK — It was love at first splash for Sam Sherman.
The Upper East Side native and two-time All-American swimmer, who will compete at Duke University in the fall, has Olympic aspirations and appropriately enough, began his aquatic career with a chance encounter with an Olympian.
Sherman was 6 years old when he first met legendary Rowdy Gaines, a three-time Olympic gold medalist who hosts the annual Big Swim Benefit for Asphalt Green, a Manhattan-based not-for-profit sports organization.
“I remember that day so clearly,” Sherman told DNAinfo New York. “We did an act and he was following me around the pool. It was so much fun and it gave me inspiration to start swimming.”
Sherman has been with Asphalt Green’s swim program — AGUA — ever since.
“The club is everything to me,” he said. “Without AGUA I don’t think I’d be the person I am today. I’ve learned so much from the coaching staff, I’ve had a lot of great coaches and I have a great coach right now, Rachel Stratton Mills.”
“Her being at practice gives us all motivation,” Sherman said. “It definitely helps the younger swimmers who every day get to see an Olympian and get to train and share the pool with someone so talented. She’s such a nice person.”
Last month, Sherman was among the nation’s top 24 distance swimmers invited to USA Swimming’s National Open Water Select Camp in Fort Myers, Fla. It was an eye-opening experience for him, even though there was some trepidation at first.
Sherman said he noticed a sign by the lake that read: “Alligators are present in Florida’s ecology. Please do not feed the alligators. If alligators are fed, they are dangerous.”
“It was pretty scary at first, but everyone went in without hesitation so I had to follow,” Sherman said.
There he met Alex Meyer, who competed in the London Games, placing 10th in the 10-kilometer Open Water event.
“It was great,” he said. “It provided me a unique chance to have motivation and learn from the best of the best in the sport of Open Water. I trained with people who are my speed from all across the country and see what they’re doing and how they train.”
Sherman said he received interest from several colleges, but he had his heart set on Duke. That dream became a reality when Blue Devils coaches watched him compete at the Tom Dolan Invitational at the University of Maryland in December.
“I wanted to swim well for me. I wanted to swim well for the coaches at Duke,” Sherman said. “After they got to know me, the person I am and my work ethic and dedication, they thought I’d be a good fit for the team. They offered me a spot and I did not deny it.”
Sherman is also excited about being part of the first graduating class at Léman Manhattan, the only independent college-preparatory school south of Canal Street.
Located in the Financial District, Léman Manhattan offers cutting-edge academics, a supportive learning environment and a highly individualized college preparation program that begins in middle school and culminates junior year when students attend weekly one-on-one meetings with the college counseling team.
An honor roll student, Sherman was a student speaker at the school’s first graduation ceremony.
“I’m really excited to be a Léman graduate,” Sherman said. “Léman was great. It was a great four years. I learned a lot. The faculty was great and everyone was so nice.”
Sherman heads to Duke on Aug. 17, ready to begin the next chapter in his burgeoning swimming career. He has hopes of qualifying for the Rio 2016 Olympic trials.
“With the coaching I’m going to get at Duke, it’s a very real possibility for me,” Sherman said. “To make the national team for Open Water is my goal.”