Peter Kline has never been the biggest guy in the pool, but his impact and results in swimming have been enormous.
“Kids like Peter come along very seldom in a coaching career,” said Kline’s first coach Kathy Hague, who has coached swimming for over 35 years. “He has always been full of incredible talent and work ethic, but was also half the size of the other kids at his level.”
In three years, Kline has made a name as not only one of the best swimmers in Cal Poly history, but potentially as one of America’s elite.
Kline’s times currently place him among the nation’s top 20 in the 400 individual medley (IM), and he is on pace to be Cal Poly’s first Division-I All-American in his senior year. Last month, competing solo in the NCAA finals he was only two seconds shy of the All-American mark.
“I’ve watched him consistently progress since he was 13,” said Cal Poly swimming and diving head coach Tom Milich. “In the last two years he has made a quantum leap from a very good college swimmer to a great one, with potential to be one of the best.”
An agricultural systems management junior at Cal Poly, Kline said he is a 20-year-old trapped in an 18-year-old’s body.
“I’ve always been a late bloomer type of guy,” said Kline laughing.
Nonetheless, Kline’s swimming career at Cal Poly has been monumental. Last year alone, he broke four school records in individual events: the 200 IM, the 400 IM, and the 100 and 200 backstroke. Kline also shares four school records in the 400 and 800 freestyle, and the 200 and 400 medley relays.
Kline comes from a strong swimming background. His father played college water polo, and his sister also came to Cal Poly to swim. Though he played the piano until he was 12, Kline gave up other sports when he was young, and has focused on competitive swimming since the age of 10 when he joined the Napa Valley swim team under coach Hague.
Aside from the obvious talent, Kline has long been known among peers and coaches for his incredible work ethic and focus.
“Pete had amazing talent, but was also attentive, focused, a very hard worker and always had a great time in the pool,” Hague said. “The combination of these qualities makes the difference in the development of a champion.”
Hague coached Kline from the age of eight to 13 at Napa Valley Swim Club, where he still holds 15 records.
“He was the smallest one on the block,” Hague said. “So, I nicknamed him Mr. Pete to make him feel big.”
Kline’s family moved to Fresno when he was 13, where he began to train under coach Milich at Fresno High School, who is now Cal Poly’s head coach.
“I pretty much told him if he didn’t come here, I’d kick his butt,” Milich said. “He has always swam hard and fast for me, so our relationship works well.”
Kline had a long awaited growth spurt his senior year of high school which brought him to his current stature. His father stands 6 foot 5 inches tall, so Kline said he believes he still has some height to gain.
“He was always one of the smallest kids when he was younger,” Tootie Kline, his mother, said. “But, he swam with a big heart.”
Heart is something Kline has never been short of.
“Knowing that I’m going to keep getting better keeps me going,” Kline said. “I want to reach the point where I’ve pushed my body to its maximum limit, and I know I’m not there yet. Potential drives me.”
Kline’s raw talent coupled with discipline and work ethic is what makes him great.
“He puts 150 percent into every practice,” said roommate and teammate Chasen Nick. “He’s the only one who comes close to his personal records in practice, every time. It’s insane.”
Though swimming has been a major part of Kline’s life since he was a child, it does not consume him. He is also a very focused student, and works at the farm shop on campus, where he fixes tractors.
“I want to make sure to initiate myself now, into the field I will be working in for the rest of my life,” Kline said. “I like to work with my hands and fix things.”
Kline said, after his swimming career he hopes to either work in management on a large farm, or for an organic spinach company alongside his father. Aside from schoolwork and a flourishing swimming career, Kline is just a typical college student with an easy-going nature.
He thrives in normal college activities like ultimate-Frisbee, foosball and flip cup. Kline’s roommates, who are also teammates at Cal Poly, recently awarded him as the messiest guy in the house.
Kline leads strongly by example in swimming practice, but is also said to be a leader of goofiness.
“Pete knows when to focus, and when to joke around,” Milich said.
Brian Gruber, Cal Poly swimming alumni and team manager said, “Pete makes long and boring practices fun because he can’t get in trouble.” When asked why, he said, “’Cause he’s the golden child.”
Whether Pete is the golden child or not, he is clearly one of the best swimmers Cal Poly has ever seen, and still has a bright future in store.
“I know for a fact, he has not reached his peak yet,” Milich said. “He dropped eight seconds last year alone in the 400 IM. If he does that again he’ll be one of the top few in the nation.”
Just missing the mark this year, Kline anticipates he will achieve Division I All-American status next year, as one of the nations top eight in the 400 IM. After he finishes his career at Cal Poly he will likely continue to train under coach Milich, in preparation for his second Olympic trials in 2012.
For now, he continues his relentless training regiment with Cal Poly, and puts his mind to what he does best — swimming.
“My best state in a race is to stay with the field the whole time, and know I have something left to kick at the end,” said Kline. “Then I just black out everything, and do what I was trained to do.”