FORT BELVOIR, Va. - A running joke in the Dermody family is 12-year-old Cal is like a fish both in and out of water.

It should be no surprise, then, that Cal has made his mark on the local swimming scene. After the family moved to Burke upon his father, Dave's, reassignment to Fort Belvoir's Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Cal immediately took to the water with the Burke Center Penguins, a swim team in the Colonial Swim League.

"He's amazing," said mom Jennifer. "He's truly been blessed with a talent."

That talent has already garnered Cal a place in the league record books.

He joined his 200m boys mixed relay teammates in breaking a 24-year-old league record last month. On July 31, he broke the 50m fly team record with a time of 28.63 and placed first in three events at league divisionals. He is also looking to break a record in the breaststroke.

Jennifer, a former lifeguard, encouraged all of her children to jump into the pool at an early age. Cal, she said, always seemed the most comfortable. "He was always a natural, no fear," she said. "Whatever they told him to do, he'd jump in and do it. It almost seemed more natural to him than walking."

During Cal's first swim lesson, the instructor approached Jennifer and asked if the family had given any serious thought into putting him on a swim team.

That was the first moment she said she realized her son's potential.

Now, no matter where the Dermodys end up moving, Jennifer has a precise plan: look for schools, then pools.

"Swimming has always been a constant at every base we've gone," she said. "Even overseas, we've always had access to a local pool, then learned about swim teams.
We like to get Cal and his siblings in the water before school starts, because it lets them meet a few kids and go into school with some familiar faces.

"Swimming is great for military kids," she continued. "Even if there aren't always a lot of teams, a pool is always easy to find."

The family's last duty station in Sigonella, Italy, proved to be a huge test for Cal. "Training was tough," he said. "I'd wake up at 7 a.m. and do a two-hour swim, five days a week. I'd been swimming for four years already, and I just really needed a break. It just got crazy, so I took a year off."

That year away from swimming was one of the toughest for him. "It was really depressing and horrible for me," he said.

Jennifer said she talked to Cal about how he felt, and he explained that he wanted to get back into the pool. "He felt like swimming was what he really needed," she said.

After speaking with Cal's former coach, the family learned of a major swim meet the very next day, and Cal was anxious to get back into the water. With no real practice under his belt, Cal attended the meet and qualified for a major European swimming competition in several events.

Cal said while he enjoys relays, he loves pushing himself to the limit. "Relays are cool, but I prefer individual events," he said. "I like knowing I can beat my own records. It's a personal challenge for me."

As for the other records he stands to break, he admitted he's a little nervous. "I want to do it, but I don't want to risk not doing it," he said. "But I know I'll still be comfortable when I finally get into the pool."

For now, Cal focuses on the present when it comes to swimming and doesn't put lofty goals on himself yet. "I'm just winging it right now to see where it takes me in the future," he explained.

He starts Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax this fall and plans to try his hand at football. "I played flag football in Italy, and I wasn't that great at it," he said with a smile. "I'm ready to try it again."

Cal does know one thing - he wants to be famous for something. "He really wants to try it all," Jennifer said. "But I do try to show him plenty of press about swimmers, like Michael Phelps, so he can see the publicity he gets and maybe want to continue to pursue swimming."

Swimming has also served as an outlet, as Cal has Tourette's syndrome, a disorder usually marked by physical or vocal tics. "When you think of Tourette's, you think of kids just shouting out words at random times, and that's just not true," Jennifer said. "Sports tends to help with that, because it lets him expel the extra energy.

"I'm proud to say he's doing great, and he's a high achiever, no matter what."