GENEVA, Ohio – The problem Nicholas Korth had was one usually faced by millions of former athletes, after their playing days are over.

They look down one day and are shocked to discover they can’t see their belts because of their no-longer svelte bellies. They might even have to stretch a little bit to even see their feet or toes.

Let’s not even talk about fat clothes, the ones that seem to get just a little bit bigger in size on each and every trip to the store.

2014 SWIMMING & DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS
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Falling off the wagon happens to the best of them, but Korth’s collegiate swimming had not begun in earnest yet when it happened to him on a fairly small scale. Signed to a scholarship out of high school by California-Irvine, Korth instead saw the NCAA Division I school cut its swimming program the summer before his freshman year.

The school honored its scholarship and he stayed for his first academic year, but after the first quarter, Korth realized just how much he missed swimming and what it had done for him.

What he also realized was that he had gained 27 pounds. On a swimmer’s frame, that didn’t exactly make him fat compared to most mere mortals, but he wasn’t happy with it.

“It was kind of impressive in a very gross manner,” Korth said with a laugh.

Determined to get back in shape and missing competition, Korth had some options. He had checked out UC San Diego when deciding on a program out of high school, and that was where he headed once he decided to start swimming again.

The choice has paid off -- big time.

Korth is a two-time team captain, 13-time All American and the 2011 DII national champion in the 200-meter breaststroke. It gets better. A fifth-year senior this season, he put together a perfect 12-0 record in breaststroke races in dual meets – 7-0 in the 200m and 5-0 in the 100.

Out of seven duals for the Triton men during the 2013-14 season, he swept both events five times. The only time he didn’t was when he did not enter the 100m.

Best of all, the DII lifestyle has suited Korth to a T … as in Triton.

“I really like the Division II aspect,” he said. “I knew I was DI caliber, but the doors that DII has opened for me have been far greater than what Division I would’ve allowed me. This year at nationals, I get to swim multiple relays and multiple individual events. Had I been competing at a Division I school, the likelihood of that happening for me would probably not be that great.”

It’s not as if the workload is being involuntarily forced upon Korth, a native of Santa Clarita, Calif. He wants the work, welcomes it actually.

Bring it on.

“I’m a very determined person, and I have no problems failing, but I’m going to give it everything I’ve got,” Korth said. “I’m going to do my best and lay it on the line, knowing that I’m walking away from whatever the experience is doing my best.”

That kind of drive is important, of course, to an elite athlete. But another critical element in his success at UCSD is the fact that he wants to repay the school for taking a chance on him. The fact is, he chose to go to another school and once that program went away, the Tritons didn’t have to give him another shot.

He had also contacted a couple of other DI schools, with no response. That only added fuel to the fire for Korth to prove himself worth of a shot.

“The coaches gave me another opportunity by allowing me to join their team,” Korth continued. “When I first came in here, I didn’t want to loaf around and not give them what I had. I wanted to prove to them that they made the right decision in giving me another opportunity. I always wanted to prove to myself and anyone else that may have doubted my skills prior.”

That kind of commitment is magnified still more by the fact that none of UCSD’s swimmers are on scholarship. They’re here because of their love for the sport, practicing every morning and hitting the weight room, all to prepare for that moment they spring off the starting blocks.

There’s a pressure that can sometimes come with being on scholarship, and Korth sounds as though it might just be a blessing in disguise not to have one.

“I’ve got a couple of friends that swim for Division I schools, and those that are fortunate enough to have scholarships kind of have the coaches hanging that over their heads – I need you to perform, otherwise we might have to take part of the scholarship away,” Korth said. “That atmosphere isn’t the most conducive to the best swim season. Some people might thrive under that, but I feel like that’s a lot of pressure.”

The reason for that is simple, Korth concluded.

“Ultimately, you don’t choose when you’re going to swim fast,” he said. “You could have your best swim during the first meet of your life, the last one or anywhere in between. My teammates are incredibly talented, incredibly driven. I just feel like sometimes we don’t get enough credit for it, because not that many people know the type of program we have.”