Sandy Martin laughs now as she reflects on the day four years ago when a reed-thin freshman named Ryan Wilkinson joined her celebrated swimming and diving program at Providence High.
“He was just a little boy – a skinny little boy,” laughed Martin, who has coached the Panthers since 1997. “Entering this year, Ryan really worked hard to change himself (physically) for his senior season, and now he’s gotten taller and really started to fill out.
“All the work he’s done has paid off. He was great last year, but this year he just went to another level.”
Over the past year, Wilkinson has grown three inches and gained 15 pounds. And in the pool, he was more effective than he’d ever been in his Panther career, notching a pair of third-place finishes in the 50-yard freestyle and the 100 backstroke at the Class 4A state meet last month.
Wilkinson, who helped Providence to its third consecutive state team championship, also was named Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group’s 2011-12 Southern Mecklenburg Boys Swimmer/Diver of the Year.
At the state meet, the N.C. State University recruit finished the 50 freestyle in 21.54 seconds while touching the wall in the 100 backstroke in 51.21. He also joined Kevin Glenn, John Ferretti and Kyle Darmody to set an all-classification state record in the 200 freestyle relay (1 minute, 24.78 seconds).
The key to his performances this season, Wilkinson noted, was a more intense training program. And then there was his physical growth.
“Last year, I was 6 feet tall and weighed 150 pounds,” he said. “This year, I’m 6-3, 165. (Getting bigger) was something I focused on this past summer. I knew it could help me. You just feel a lot stronger in the water.”
How’d he put on the pounds in such a short time? For starters, he began consuming anywhere from 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day.
“But you have to eat healthy – you can’t just eat the Big Macs,” he warned. “I’m talking about nuts, fruits, chicken, spaghetti – just high carbs, high calories. There were about two breakfasts a day and snacks between every meal. And the snacks weren’t just a yogurt thing; it was more like a snack and a yogurt thing. I want to say I also had about two dinners a day. And they were big meals.
“I wouldn’t say I didn’t eat a lot before this year; I guess I just didn’t eat enough to combat how much I was swimming. I was burning a lot more calories than I was eating, and I was eating about 3,500 calories back then.”
As Wilkinson grew bigger and his times came down, college programs began to show more interest. He eventually signed with N.C. State after also considering Virginia Tech and UNC Wilmington.
“There weren’t a lot of colleges interested in me at first because, at that point, I guess I hadn’t really done that much,” Wilkinson said. “N.C. State was a school on the rise. They’re looking for kids like me who are tall and skinny, I guess, that they can bring in and bulk up and get them to the top level.”
Sort of like what happened for Wilkinson this season.