NHS swim team co-captain says his path in life is out of this world

By Lenn Zonder


Jeff Heller is co-captain of the Newtown High swim team. He hopes to study physics at Cornell University.
Jeff Walcott

Jeff Heller is co-captain of the Newtown High swim team. He hopes to study physics at Cornell University.

Jeff Heller swims, runs and climbs mountains, but his eyes are focused beyond terra firma. He has his eyes set on the furthest reaches of outer space.

"I’m hoping to be accepted at Cornell and major in physics,” Heller said. "I’m fascinated by black holes and gravity. I would really like to study the subject.”

Before Heller transports himself beyond the Milky Way, he has several more mundane and worldly activities to occupy his time, such as races to swim and run for Newtown High.

Heller is co-captain of the Newtown swim team. The Nighthawks were 2-3 this season going into last Tuesday’s meet with Weston High.

Heller swims the 100- and 200-meter freestyle and 100-meter butterfly for the Nighthawks. He has posted several good times in his races including a very respectable 55.9 in the 100-free, and 1:06 in the 100-fly.

The Newtown swimming team has had several distractions in the past year. First it was the shock of learning popular Greg Chion had cancer. Then, after being told he was getting well and would be back, the greater shock of walking into school to a host of crying faces.

"I walked into the school and everybody was crying,” Heller said. "I didn’t understand why. I had seen him a few weeks earlier and he looked good. We always heard he would be back. It was a real setback to us all.”

Another setback that turned around for the swim team was the resignation last spring of coach Brian Reiff to pursue other interests. Later, Reiff reconsidered and decided to return to the team for one more season, to give the school’s athletic director time to find a replacement.

But despite the distractions, Heller and his co-captains, Kane Kunst, Lauren Bass and Matt Fries have managed to keep the program on an even keel, and poised for the future.

Apart from school, Heller keeps himself busy as a member of Explorer Post 70. It is the Newtown area post.

He is a Life Scout.

"There are three kinds of Explorer Posts,” he said. There are the Sea Scouts, posts that specialize in police work and our kind, a high adventure post. We go camping and learn survival skills, first aid, and personal fitness. We also get involved with life-saving techniques and leadership skills.”

Heller is quartermaster for the troop and its junior assistant scoutmaster.

"I’ve been in scouting for several years,” Heller said. "I’ve learned many skills, in and out of scouting.

"In 1998, 11 of us went to a high adventure camp in Philmont, N.M. We did it to have fun, but it was a great learning experience.”

Although the camp is not affiliated with the Boy Scouts, its program synchronizes well with Heller’s scouting activities.

"We would hike all day and then camp out. While we were encamped, we would do things like black-powder shooting, explore an old mine, do some blacksmithing and rock-climbing and rappeling.”

Still, when asked who his idol is, he departs from the concrete world of sports and answers, "Einstein, because he was a physicist and discovered the theory of relativity.”

Heller took his first class in classical physics last year, and found it so much to his liking that he wants to become a physicist.

"I don’t know the proper name of the branch of physics, but I am definitely interested in black holes and gravity.”


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