Profile: Senior Ben Kurniawan plans to “leave my mark” on Skyline swimming

Ben Kurniawan is a special athlete. The Skyline senior’s swimming resume is impressive, built through an incredible work ethic and commitment to a sport he has been participating in since he was a kid.

And we will get to all of that in due time.

But, first, let’s listen to Kurniawan talk about his teammates. If there ever was a quick way to learn how this guy ticks, get ready to be impressed.

“This year’s team has been incredible, and I don’t just mean in the pool,” says Kurniawan,” a team captain for the Eagles. “Everyone shows mutual support through the highs of best times at meets and the lows of morning practice. No matter how frustrated I am after a bad race or how ecstatic I am after a personal best time, I know each person on the team has my back.

“My experiences swimming throughout the years have taught me to listen empathetically and to view things from all perspectives, a skill that has served me well as a captain of the team. Creating opportunities to bond with one another has been a highlight of my year. Besides our supportive atmosphere, we also have been outstanding in the water. We have high hopes for this year to try and win states after a disappointing fourth place by a single point the year prior. I’m confident in my team to finish my last lap strong.”

Yeah, we could pretty much end it there – you get the point. But there are more points to be made and more to this amazing young man. Let’s turn it over to someone who knows him well.

“Ben has as much grit as any athlete I have coached,” says Skyline’s longtime and successful coach Maureen Murrett. “And that’s saying something! He comes mentally and physically prepared for every practice and will take on any challenge. It is not unusual for him to be in his own lane churning out a set no one else can do. Between that and his quick wit, he makes me smile every day.”

Since we’ve already established some truths about Kurniawan, let’s jump up on the starting blocks and see what has led to these impressive characteristics. He says he has been swimming for as long as he can remember, but it wasn’t love at first splash.

“Surprisingly, I actually despised the sport when I started,” he says. “I had originally played baseball before joining a swim team. I remember myself vividly in the back of my mother’s car, kicking the driver’s seat screaming about how I didn’t want to go to practice. I would spend some practices in the locker room, hiding away to skip the grueling training for young children.”

But as he got used to the water – and the challenging workouts – he found himself enjoying it more, especially when he started to see the results of his hard work.

“I improved drastically,” he says. “I actually was ranked nationally when I was around 12. While I sometimes feel like I peaked long ago, I keep pushing myself forward. I might not be as amazing as I was before, but that doesn’t change how hard I’m going to work, even if the payoff doesn’t feel the same.”

Kurniawan has qualified for the State Finals all four years at Skyline. He has competed in the same two events – 200 IM and 100 butterfly – all four years with mixed results.

“My state meet performances have not been ideal,” he says. “I gained time in both my individual events freshman year and failed to qualify for finals.”

The State Finals were cancelled his sophomore year because of Covid.

“I was incredibly frustrated that year,” Kurniawan says. “A season ended literally a day before we left for the meet. We didn’t even have practice that day. Everything was just gone and we stayed at home, a season’s worth of training for not even a splash in the pool.”

They only had timed finals his junior year and he called his performances “incredibly average,” despite fifth-place finishes in both events. “I personally believe that I perform best at finals, so I was disappointed to only be allowed the chance to swim my events once,” he said.

And this brings us to this season – his final lap with the Eagles!

“This year, I’m hungry for first,” says Kurniawan, who has qualified for the 50 and 100 freestyle, the 100 butterfly, and the 200 IM. “I want to help my team win states and finish my career in style.”

That goal – to win states – has always been written on the board for these Eagles. They aim high because they believe in themselves, the program and the process.

“Yeah, I think that it’s doable,” says Kurniawan. “The guys we have this year are determined to make a splash and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of it.

“But one of the most important things to me is leaving my mark at Skyline’s pool. I’ve been keeping track of the 100 fly record for the past three years and this is my last chance to do it. I also think we have a good shot at beating the varsity records for a few relays that were set when Skyline won D1 states a few years ago. I plan to leave my mark on the pool, whether in a D2 state winner banner, a few records on the board, or an individual state championship placard.”

He left his mark on Saturday at the SEC league meet at Skyline. Kurniawan placed first in the 200 IM and 100 fly and was a member of the Eagles’ winning 200 free relay and 400 free relay. He broke Skyline’s varsity record in the 100 fly and with his teammates set the varsity, pool and conference record in both relays.

Benjamin, 17, is the son of Sophian Kurniawan and Juliana Jong. He has a 3.985 GPA and also is part of Skyline’s orchestra program. “Being together with other people on the swim team has really helped me learn to really mesh with others and to support my fellow peers to create beautiful music and memories,” he says.

Apart from swimming and studying, he spends a lot of his free time gaming. He says swimming has made him “hyper-competitive” and he takes that mentality online. “I’ve spent probably hundreds of hours grinding away at different video games to perform at the highest level I can achieve,” he says. “If I don’t swim in college, I can see myself looking to join a college eSports team.”

Kurniawan also swims for Club Wolverine and holds numerous state records within Michigan. He says his journey through swimming has taught him many lessons: how to be humble, how to support his teammates, and how to work hard.


As for the next challenge in his life, that lane is wide open.

“Honestly, my plans for the future are quite uncertain,” he says. “I’ve been accepted to the University of Michigan already for engineering, where I plan to major in Computer Science. However, I still am waiting on about 12 decisions to see where I will end up. While I do want to explore my options outside of Ann Arbor, I also would not mind staying here.”

And there are many reasons worth hanging around the town he grew up in and has clearly succeeded in. “I love the people, the culture, and the community of this college town, and continuing my education here would not be disappointing to me at all,” he says. “I will unfortunately not be continuing my swim career for now. However, if possible, I do hope that I will be offered the option to walk onto a swim team in college. If not, I do see myself possibly swimming for club swim.

“Alas, this could be my last time swimming competitively. It has truly been a journey, with memories I share with others that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

And whatever happens in the coming weeks, he has clearly left his mark on Skyline swimming.

Images by Nicole McKelvey / Senior picture by Sophian Kurniawan
Additional photos by Jae Seung Lee