Before we get to know Keith Kozma the swimmer – and there is a lot to talk about there – let’s meet Keith Kozma the person because that’s how, why and where this young man is going to make his biggest splash in life.
And the best way to demonstrate what makes Kozma swim outside the water is the work he did to achieve the very prestigious Eagle Scout Award, the highest achievement or rank attainable in the Boy Scouting program of the BoyScouts of America.
Kozma, the Skyline senior, led a team of about 15 volunteers over the course of several months to build three custom, white oak furniture grade donation boxes with hinged lids and locking wheels. He also raised funds to purchase and install restaurant grade shelving for a local food program: the L.O.V.E. Thy Neighbor organization.
“L.O.V.E. Thy Neighbor serves sandwiches and distributes canned goods every Saturday morning at the St. Andrew’s Breakfast Program,” Kozma said. “For me, is was the lessons in attention to detail, leadership, planning, and the ethic that comes with working on a project that makes it so valuable.”
If working towards that honor and swimming weren’t enough, Kozma also plays the French horn and is a member of the Skyline band, orchestra and marching band. The son of Jodi and Doug Kozma, Keith also maintains a 4.0 grade-point average in the classroom.
Now let’s head over to the pool for more of the story. Last year as a junior, Kozma helped lead the Eagles to a perfect 11-0 record, an SEC title and the Division 1 state championship. He was eighth in the 500 free in 4:42.81 and 15th in the 200 free in 1:45.21 at the state finals.
“Our team worked so hard last year,” says Kozma. “Winning a big meet like that requires energy, strategy and hard training. There is the quote from Bo Schembechler – ‘Those who stay will be champions.’ Mojo (Coach Maureen Murrett) brought this up after several swimmers quit the team; the quote began to have a deeper and deeper meaning as the season progressed.”
And those who stayed, including Kozma, were champions.
He said last year’s team was filled with fast people – and that always helps getting teams to the finish line.
“Mojo knew that we had the opportunity to take our first state title, so this was the driving force for the year,” he said. “I remember doing well in the meets; our team edged out Saline and Pioneer again, and had our eyes on Holland West Ottawa, another fast D1 team.
“At the state meet, our team went into the prelims of the state meet strong. I edged out several people in the 200 free (1:43) and 500 free (4:39) placing 15th and 8th respectively. The meet was full of energy built up from several months of work and our team won its first D1 state title.”
Kozma has been swimming and going fast for a long time.
“My mom decided it would be best for me to become comfortable in the water and learn to swim, so I began taking swim lessons at the YMCA when I was 5,” he says. “I had always enjoyed the swimming and watersports aspect of our trips to our family cottage up north. As a kid, I played on several rec sports teams, but I eventually decided to narrow my focus to swimming. I joined a swim team the summer after fifth grade at Liberty Athletic Club, swam there for the summer, and after that I decided I would swim all-year-round at Dexter Community Aquatic Club (DCAC).”
He has been swimming year-round for DCAC since he was 12 years old.
Kozma entered Skyline as a breaststroker but was surprised to discover that he did fairly well in the 200 and 500 freestyle time trials as a freshman. He soon began practicing long distance.
“I remember my 500 times hovered around 5:15, and I was able to drop them to sub-5:10 … 5:05 … 5:02, but I wasn’t able to drop them under 5:00 at SEC championships,” he said. “I thought I had blown my shot at the D1 state cut. At the Last Chance meet, I went into the 500 unknowingly going well under pace. I began to feel the effects of this midrace: I pulled in with a time of 4:55, half a second shy of the D1 state cut. I was disappointed looking at my splits, but I knew I would come back strong next year. The highlight of that year was defeating Pioneer for the first time in Skyline’s history.”
Mojo was the new head coach at Skyline for Kozma’s sophomore season. And the new coach brought with her a new bar for the young swimmer.
“Right from the get-go she surprised me by saying that low 4:40’s were definitely attainable,” he said. “I remember getting the state cut with a 4:52 pretty quickly after that and being relieved.”
His biggest jump of the season was at the MISCA meet where he dropped 3 seconds in the 200 free (1:45) and 6 seconds in the 500 free (4:44). Over the course of his sophomore season, he was able to bring his 500 time down to 4:40.2 in the SEC meet. He placed eighth in the state meet.
So, from a swimmer’s point of view, what makes Skyline so successful?
“Humility, hard work and consistency are so important,” Kozma says. “Skyline has access to a great facility, has great coaches, and brings top level swimmers through its program.”
He says this year’s team “carries a special energy.”
“Everyone is so supportive; I’ve noticed this in the pool, on the deck, during practice, during meets, and in the locker room,” says Kozma, who plans on studying engineering next year at either Michigan or Georgia Tech. “I want to be the best team captain that I can be, finish the year with personal bests in the 200 and 500 free, and push myself to learn new things in and out of school.”