If Eric Kemeny's name were thrown into Bluffton's version of the game Six Degrees of Separation, the title might have to be changed to One Degree of Separation.
After six years of coaching the Fins swim team, coupled with six years as head coach of the Bluffton High School swim team, "Coach Eric" is as connected to Bluffton as palmetto trees are to South Carolina.
"It's not often I go anywhere in Bluffton without seeing someone who is currently swimming or swam at one time," Kemeny said from his home-away-from-home at the Bluffton Community Indoor Pool on Pritchard Street. "It's not uncommon for me to run into several people in one place at the same time."
Kemeny hasn't always been prominent in Bluffton, but he has been associated with swimming since he was 7 years old. Raised near Ann Arbor in Milan, Mich., Kemeny also was exposed to more traditional sports, such as baseball, but found his niche in swimming.
"I was good at it at a young age," Kemeny said. "I liked to work hard, and it was something I always enjoyed doing and I had success at it."
He excelled in the backstroke and the 400-meter individual medley, winning meets and setting records on the club level, in high school and at Western Kentucky University.
"My big thing with swimming was, what I put in, I got (success) out of it," Kemeny said. "The harder I worked, the more successful I was. And I could control that. It was up to me to make myself successful."
Kemeny, who is 35, also was able to parlay his passion into a profession. He and his wife, Summer, moved to Hilton Head Island in 2000 when Kemeny took a job as the director of aquatics at the Island Recreation Center on Hilton Head.
"We loved it right when we moved down and decided to stay," said Kemeny, whose family now includes children, ages 14, 10 and 1. "I had to leave coaching (in Michigan), which was a hard decision since I coached at a club level, but thing have worked out really well."
Kemeny rejoined the coaching ranks three years later with the Hilton Head Aquatics club, working with the island swimmers until 2006. That's when his break came in Bluffton.
Kemeny was named coach of the Bluffton High School swim team and almost simultaneously started Fins. The year-round club team is affiliated with USA Swimming, which is the national governing body of competitive swimming in the United States.
He credits Kathy Levey, the longtime coach of the Bluffton swim school, for getting the Fins off the ground. The two have worked closely throughout the years and have formed a partnership.
When the club was organized, there was one coach for 13 members in three skill groups. Swimmers practiced different times five days a week. Today, there are five coaches for 110 members, who make up six skill groups. Swimmers use the pool six days a week, often creating crowded lanes.
The high school team had 15 swimmers and now has 47.
The swimmers also are gaining recognition on the state level as the boys finished fifth and the girls finished seventh at the most recent state club championships in Greenville.
"Eighty-five percent of his (Kemeny's) life is taken up in swimming," Levey said. "He's a very easy-going young man and very easy to get along with. When he has to get tough, he's tough, Other than that, he has a nice, even-keeled personality."
And he's also a content person, although like all coaches, Kemeny strives for improvements among his swimmers.
"I'm not going anywhere," said Kemeny, when asked about his future plans. "(In five years), I'll still be doing what I'm doing now, with some team championships."