NEW PORT RICHEY — He looks like a swimmer, one that has been in the pool since he was young.
But Emir Muratovic hasn’t been. The Ridgewood High junior started swimming as a freshman. It’s a long way to go in a short time to win a 2A state title in the 50-meter freestyle.
It’s even farther to come from native land of post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“There would’ve been no remote possibility that he would’ve discovered swimming back in Bosnia,” older brother Mirza Muratovic said. “Kids around the age of 16 are already drinking and out doing other things. Swimming just would not have been an option for Emir.”
In 2000, Emir’s family wanted a new life following the war and violence. Muratovic’s father and mother, Faik and Nizama, said the decision was ultimately difficult, especially since they would be leaving many family members behind in Bosnia. However, they believed, in the long run, many more chances would be available in the opportunistic American landscape.
“We wanted to provide more opportunities for our children and to have a better life,” Faik said. “It was tough leaving family members in Bosnia, but we had to do what was best.”
Emir’s fascination with water began when he was 4 years old, according to his mother, and she knew then that her son loved being in the ocean and local pools.
“I remember when he got into the water, he had just so much fun in it,” Nizama said.
Emir had never been apart of an organized swimming team and he only tried for out track and field and basketball at Bayonet Point Middle. So it wasn’t until 2011 when Ridgewood boys swim coach Casey Claflin, then Gulf’s swim coach, saw Emir, a freshman at the New Port Richey Aquatic Center practicing his butterfly strokes.
“I saw him swimming the butterfly three years ago and he swam it kind of awkwardly,” Claflin recalls about asking Emir to join the TBAY swimming club. “I went up to talk to him and told him he really had some ability. He has just been developing and he has this unbelievable thing for the water. His natural ability is incredible. Its been an interesting couple of years with him.”
At Emir’s first TBAY practice, Claflin remembers him lasting 15 minutes before stepping out of the pool and throwing up. Claflin was convinced that it would be the last of Emir’s swimming, but he continued to practice and his talent developed.
A disqualification at the Class 2A-District 7 meet last month in the 100 freestyle helped humble Emir.
“One of the best things to ever happen to Emir was him getting disqualified from the 100 freestyle at the district meet,” Claflin said.
That disqualification, coupled with his 11th-place finish in the 50 free as a sophomore, helped set the stage for Emir to win a state medal.
Not only was he able to win a 2A state crown, but the junior set an All-American time (20.81) by edging out Robinson’s Ross Brown (21.30) and Land O’ Lakes’ Cam Hilgenberg (21.33).
And Emir is already looking ahead to his senior season.
“I still have much room to improve,” Muratovic said.
“I want to bulk up and put more muscle on myself. My goal is to repeat as state champion in the 50 and also compete in the state series in a couple other events. I think right now the sky’s the limit and I’m excited for it.”
Correspondent Andy Villamarzo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.