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by Greta Van Meeteren

May 3, 2010

Loving open water and setting goals

Kevin Herlihy is a chemist at the University of North Carolina when he's not swimming. He recently earned his PhD in chemistry with an emphasis in polymer and materials. Herlihy enjoys his work, which focuses on the development of nanoparticles for treatment of a variety of cancers. In the lab where he works, chemists are looking at the effect of particle size and shape and how these variables can improve cancer therapies.

Married almost two years, he met his wife at UNC where she is a nurse at the hospital. "She is excellent at what she does and I am very proud," says Herlihy. She's also a full time student working on a master’s degree in nursing. The couple has two hounds that were adopted from the local animal rescue center. Buster, a fox hound mix is a bit of a digger and Savannah, a redbone coonhound who is “perhaps the softest dog in the world.”

"I don't think I ever had a plan. So I am doing exactly what I thought I would be doing," says Herlihy.

Swimming is a hobby for Herlihy right now. He has coached summer league swimming and Jr. Lifeguards in the past. "I've been swimming all my life. Ever since my parents watched me crawl into the pool as a baby. I started swimming competitively the day I started listening to what my coach was actually saying. This was the summer after sixth grade," says Herlihy.

He is a competitive person by nature. When he discovered he could be good at swimming, he was hooked. His stroke technique quickly progressed and the coach recommended that his parents take him to the local club team. From there Herlihy swam through high school and received a scholarship at University of California, Santa Barbara, where he swam all four years. He made the Olympic trials in the 200 free in 2000 and was team co-captain at UCSB in 2001-2002. He has "Escaped from Alcatraz" twice.

After a long hiatus after college with a couple of brief attempts at a comeback, including one half-ironman, Herlihy is now swimming Masters with Durham Area Masters Aquatics. "I have a great set of training buddies. We have wonderful conversations about awful television during our kicking sets. I use social swimming as an escape from chemistry. Unfortunately, one of my buddies gave up kickboards for Lent," says Herlihy.

"Swimming provides a constructive outlet for stress. But it is something that I am only now learning to balance with the rest of my life. As a Masters swimmer, I'm learning about the Masters prerogative (i.e. changing the set to my liking) and about swimming easy for entire workouts," he says.

Herlihy swims four to five times a week for one and a half hours on average. This usually converts to 3,500-4,500 yards per workout. He is a freestyler although he has been known to swim a little backstroke. "The most fun I've ever had swimming has been open water swims," he says.

For Herlihy, motivation is difficult without goals. GTD is one such goal. His goal for 2010 is to swim 500 miles. He has already fallen a little behind the pace. But he is still hopeful that that he can turn it around.

When asked for his favorite swimming story, Herlihy answers, "Open water tryouts for LA County Lifeguards. A thousand people showed up. I swam neck and neck with a beast of a swimmer the entire 1k two-buoy swim, until we turned in to shore. I did a couple of backstrokes to see if there were any waves coming in and spotted a set. Somehow, I managed to time it just right and caught a wave which was enough to body surf in for the first place slot."

As for a funny story? "I have a tendency to go swimming with cell phones," he says.


  • Human Interest


  • Goal Setting
  • GTD
  • Biography