Two decades after his record-setting swimming years at Cherry Hill East High School, Sean Killion still enjoys splashing around in the water.
But the good sporting fun isn’t in the pool these days. It’s in the ocean.
And it’s not swimming either.
“We live right on the Pacific Ocean. I’m too lazy to swim, so I’m an avid surfer,” Killion said with a smile Saturday before being enshrined as a member of the Camden County Hall of Fame.
Killion was one of the top swimmers in the country when he was at his competitive best. So does he surf the famed and feared waves of Mavericks off Half Moon Bay south of San Francisco with the other legendary “Men Who Ride Mountains?”
“No, that’s a little too aggressive,” Killion said with a laugh. “They are wired, you see it in their eyes.”
Killion had a look of genuine gratitude in his eyes before the Hall of Fame ceremony at the Woodbine Inn.
“This is a wonderful place. I feel very fortunate to have grown up here,” said Killion, who has been living in San Francisco for the last 10 years. “Coming back here brings back great memories.”
Killion is considered by many as the greatest swimmer ever from South Jersey. When asked how a kid from Jersey rises to the level of an Olympic swimmer, Killion said, “Just a lot of heart.”
Killion went out to swim at the University of California and he said he used to hear other swimmers from around the country speak glowingly about South Jersey swimmers.
“The mentality is East Coast guys from Jersey are just tougher,” Killion said.
Killion, who competed in the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992, began swimming in the summers at the Old Orchard Swim Club in Cherry Hill. He started year-round swimming with the fabled Wahoos Club in Mount Laurel.
“It is a great tight-knit community,” Killion said about growing up in Cherry Hill.
He helped coach John Carroll’s Wahoos team finish in the top 10 in both the United States Senior and Junior National Championships.
“We were fortunate and had this wonderful Tri-County League as like a feeder program,” Killion said about the Wahoos team. “I was lucky enough to work out with the best swimmers in South Jersey.
“We trained together and it made us all better and it really kind of put the team on the map nationally. We had four or five guys who got D-I scholarships.”
Killion, who is a sales manager with Federal Express, swam for Ira Kosloff at East. He won the 500 freestyle four straight years at the NJSIAA state championships and won the 200 freestyle as sophomore, junior and senior.
As a junior, in 1985, Killion won both the 200 and 500 freestyle at the Eastern States Interscholastic Championships.
Killion finished his brilliant high school career by setting the state 500 freestyle record with a 4:24.04 that still stands today.
While at California, Killion set the American record in the 800-meter freestyle at the USS Senior Nationals in 1987. He also qualified for the Goodwill Games as an 18-year-old and beat world champion Vladimir Salnikov of the Soviet Union in the 400 meters with a time of 3:51.91 to win by 0.09 seconds.
Killion went on to make the U.S. Olympic Team in 1992 and competed in the 400 and 1,500 freestyle races in Barcelona.
Swimming, however, hasn’t totally been replaced by surfing. Someday, Killion would like to get into coaching.
“I wanted to be a person that could step away from athletics and prove to myself I could do well in other things,” said Killion, who has a 2-month-old daughter, Boyd, with his wife Regan.
Regan is a doctor at Stanford who ran track at Southern Methodist and competed in the Olympic Trials in 1988.
“We would both like to coach,” Killion said.
“We’d like to coach as a second career and give a lot back. That is a dream of mine to be able to do that at some point.”
Until then, Killion will get his kicks in the water on a surfboard.
“It reminds me of the Jersey Shore in the fall and winter when it is not real crowded,” Killion said about the San Francisco surf scene.