Claremore High School exchange student Agung Saputro loves to swim.
But the school does not have a competitive swim team.
Instead, he swims with an independent swim club. And he’s posting some top-flight times.
Saputro's mother signed him up for swim classes at age 7, not knowing the impact the sport would have on his life.
Saputro gained an important skill, certainly, but he also discovered friendship and a passion for the sport.
"It's a good sport," he said. "Very healthy."
Traveling to meets, challenging himself to better his times, and making friends are among the things Saputro appreciates most about swimming.
Today, the 17-year-year old exchange student lives in Claremore with host family, Sam and Nancy Bethea and their four
children, ages 11 through 18.
"I get along well with them," he said. "It's fun."
Saputro is from Surakarta, Indonesia, a large city with a population of more than a half-million people. The tropical climate means very warm temperatures year ’round.
In addition to English, Saputro speaks Indonesian, the official language of his country, and Javanese, the regional language. Before coming to Claremore, he attended an English Language Camp in Olympia, Wash., so that he would be better prepared to handle the language demands of an American high school.
In Indonesia, Saputro swam for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, six days a week. Here, he swims for 1 1/2 hours, three times a
"I'm busy at school," he said.
That hasn't stopped him from making a big impression at a local swim meet.
"His time from Nov. 28 was 53.85 in the 100 freestyle," local club swim coach Charles Haverstick said. "He also swam the 100 backstroke with a time of 1:03.55. He won easily. He worked out for about a month after a year layoff. According to the OSSAA web site, which shows the fastest high school swimming times in the state as of Dec. 20, his freestyle is in the top 25 and his backstroke is in the top 20."
But because Saputro is not swimming for a high school team, his times are not posted by the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, the governing body of high school athletics.
Saputro participated in many competitions back home in Indonesia and admits that he took home a few medals, but he says the competition level is higher in the United States. He has three younger sisters and a younger brother. His sisters are also swimmers.
"When you participate in a swim meet, you travel anywhere," he said.
He doesn't see himself as particularly competitive. "I like to challenge myself. I'm satisfied if I have a good time and swam faster than before, even if I don't win," he said.
The ability to relax and enjoy his sport, coupled with a strong work ethic, may be the keys to his success.
"He swims workouts really hard, and it's a challenge to keep him busy," Haverstick said. "I will give him a set to do and
when I look back from working with the other swimmers, he is done and waiting for me to get him going again. No complaints, just hard work."
Much as he enjoys swimming, Saputro puts his studies first. He appreciates Claremore High School where he is a senior.
"For me, the language is still the problem, but I like school here better than in my country because the teachers give more help," he said. "There are good facilities to support education here."
After high school, Saputro plans to attend Western Washington University in Bellingham. The university has a
swim team, but Saputro doesn't know if he'll participate.
"I (will try to) swim, but I don't know ... maybe the first year I'll be busy with my studies," he said. He plans to major in International Business and hopes to work either in the U.S. or in Indonesia.
For now, Saputro is enjoying life as an American high school student.
He watched a lot of American movies in his country, and his city has many American fast-food restaurants, but life in
Claremore offers new experiences. He has particularly enjoyed hunting, trout fishing and camping with his host family.
Although he did not shoot a deer — "I only saw one very small one," he said — he loves venison. He did catch a few fish.
When he leaves, he will miss his host family the most of anything in the U.S. "I feel like they're my family," he said.
Warmly gregarious with an engaging smile that belies the serious student beneath, Saputro has brought something special to those who know him here.
"I feel lucky to have him working out with us, since he gives the other swimmers someone to push them," Haverstick said.
"They are realizing how hard they need to work in order to reach his level. It's too bad that Claremore High School doesn't have a team for him to work with."
His host family concurs. "He is a blessing to us. We can't say enough good things about him," said host mom Nancy Bethea. "He fits right in like a brother, like a son. We love having him."