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Published April 07 2010

YMCA swimming nationals: Fargo teen to compete in three events

Talk to Obi Obembe outside of the pool, and he’s a fun-loving teenager that’s a laugh a minute.

People better take 16-year-old Fargo North sophomore one he hits the water, though.

Obembe is a swimmer with Fargo’s YMCA Gators and he’s headed to the YMCA Nationals in three events – making him just the third Gators swimmer in the past 50 years to accomplish that feat.

“It’s not totally common,” Gators coach Talia Butery said. “But he’s such a good all-around swimmer. He’ll do anything we ask him to.”

Obembe’s diversity in the pool is shown in the three events he’ll be swimming at nationals. He qualified in the 50 freestyle, the 100 backstroke and the 100 breaststroke.

“I just try and practice hard at everything,” Obembe said. “But this surprised me. I went in not knowing if I’d qualify in anything, and I wound up qualifying in three events.”

Qualifying in three different strokes shows Obembe’s diversity, because getting to the Nationals is no easy task. Out of the more than 150 swimmers in the Gators program, just three are going to the Nationals.

“He’s willing to try different things and go outside of his comfort zone,” Butery said. “He’s made himself a really dependable swimmer on the team.

“Coaches and teammates know he can step up and compete with anybody in any event.”

The YMCA Nationals in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., from today through Saturday and Obembe is looking forward to more than just his first shot at nationals.

“I’m looking forward to the good competition, but I’m also looking forward to seeing the ocean for first time in my life,” Obembe said with a laugh.

Butery joked that Obembe can be “a little bit of a goon sometimes,” but that his comedy can really keep spirits up for everybody during tough practices.

“He’s a good entertainer on the team,” Butery said. “He has a light heart and kids all really relate to him.

“When practices get really tough, and doing a lot of yardage and it gets tense, nice to have somebody that can lighten the mood a little bit.”

Two other Gators qualified for the Nationals – sisters Emily Roche, a freshman at Fargo North, and Ellie Roche, a seventh-grader at Ben Franklin.

Emily qualified in the 100 butterfly and 200 butterfly, while Ellie qualified in the 100 breaststroke.

“They’re both awesoe kids and this is going to be a pretty exciting thing for them,” Buter said. “Emly will be one to watch because every tie she swims she gets better.

“Only four kids are Ellie’s age in her event. Everybody else is older, so this is quite an accomplishment for her and her future.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kerry Collins at (701) 241-5548