Reece Whitley: SportsKid of the Year

Written by Janet Denison
Published on December 01, 2015

Reece Whitley was seven years old when he failed a deep-water safety test at summer camp. He had to watch his friends enjoy the pool without him. He came home crushed and disappointed. His mom quickly opened her computer and found a place to enroll her son in swimming lessons. She wanted to be sure her son was safe around water, but she had no way of knowing that those swimming lessons were going to be about much more than his safety.

Reece’s first lessons involved learning to keep his head above water. Before long he was learning to swim competitively and, by the age of twelve, he had grown to 6-foot-4 and was swimming the breaststroke as his specialty.

Today Reece is a 6-foot-8-inch sophomore, and straight-A student at William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia. He has won a junior national championship in the breaststroke and is one of the top young swimmers in the country. This summer he will compete in the 2016 Olympic trials.

Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps said, “Getting to know Reece a little bit, he’s incredible. The guy is very talented, he’s super relaxed, super outgoing. He’s seeing results, he’s having fun, he’s enjoying himself. He’s a stud.” Sports Illustrated wrote: “For his talent, humility, and willingness to mentor younger athletes in his sport, we’re proud to announce that Reece Whitley is the 2015 Sports Illustrated Kids SportsKid of the Year.”

When asked during an interview by ABC’s Good Morning America how he had achieved so much at such a young age, Reece’s response was to thank his parents. Reece’s mom and dad are both doctors, and he said they taught him to work hard and succeed in life.

Reece is often the only African-American swimmer at his meets. An interviewer asked if he had felt self-conscious or uncomfortable about being the only person of color and he was quick to say “no.” He added, “Ever since I’ve started getting attention for what I’ve been doing in the sport, I think that has always been a goal. But instead of just being a role model for African-American children, I want to try to focus on being a role model to everyone. I’d like to inspire all kids to get in the pool regardless of race.”

I think Reece will inspire a lot of people in the coming years. He is young and getting stronger. If he doesn’t qualify for the next Olympics his chances look pretty good for the future. I hope he will continue to walk with strong character as well. I read several articles and each spoke about his easy-going humility. I’m not sure if he is a person of faith, but he is definitely a person who has many Christian characteristics. The Sports Illustrated award will launch him into the limelight and I hope his parents will help him understand how to handle his fame. Those qualities will make him a champion in life as well as in the pool.

Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Verse 12 is often left “unquoted.” That verse says, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.” God has promised he has a great plan for our lives, but that plan’s success involves a commitment on our part.

All parents hold their babies, watch their toddlers and study their school-age children. We wonder who they will be as adults. We wonder what career paths they will choose. We wonder if they will be happy and live with strong character. We pray they will choose to walk with God’s leadership. And God wants that relationship with our children more than we do.

Most of us will not raise Olympic champions who are awarded a Sports Illustrated cover. Most of us will not raise children who receive the world’s acclaim. Whatever our children choose to become, nothing is as important as choosing to become a child of God.

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” I wish I could tell you that Proverb was a promise, but it isn’t. Proverbs are statements of general truth. Every parent would like to believe that if we just raise them correctly our kids would be guaranteed to turn out. That is generally true, but no parent can “parent away” our child’s free will. God created us with the ability to choose.

Reece Whitley seems to be using his freedom to choose with great wisdom. It will be fun to see where the future leads him. For all of you who have a seven-year-old who is disappointed by a failure, his story is one of hope and a future. For all of you who have teens who are looking for a hero, his story is one to tell. But for every parent, the most important future for our children is their eternal future. God wants the very best for them. How can we help our children choose wisely?

Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated.

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Janet Denison

Janet Denison teaches others to live an authentic faith through her writing, speaking, and teaching ministry. She blogs weekly at and often at

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