When Jake Kealy was in middle school, he decided to take a break from swimming and instead become a diver.

It was a move that, fortunately, did not last. A year later, Kealy was back to swimming and hasn’t looked back.

His steady progress in recent years reached a high point when the Wilton swimmer, a member of the Wilton Y Wahoos, won his first-ever national championship, taking first in the 200-meter backstroke at the 2016 YMCA Long Course National Championships in Indianapolis, Ind., at the end of July.

“I was really excited. It was something I never thought I’d do. It’s really cool to be the fastest person in the 200 backstroke at the meet,” said Kealy, whose time of 2:04.81 was more than two seconds faster than his closest competitor. It was only about a second off the 2016 Olympic Trials qualifying time.

“I’ve been working on that all season and it was cool to see that,” he said.

It was a big improvement over a year ago, when Kealy placed sixth at Y nationals. He dropped his time from last year by more than four seconds.

“It was a shock to me to see how much I’ve grown over the year. The was definitely a career high,” he said. “I’ve definitely worked hard in practice. I had bigger goals and trained a lot harder.”

In the 100 backstroke, Kealy finished third in another personal-best time, 58.22, after finishing 16th last year.

He was also fourth in the 200-meter individual medley with a time of 2:10.56. He had been seeded 33rd, but took nearly seven seconds off his seed time.

Kealy notched his fourth personal-best time of the meet in the 100 butterfly, placing 42nd in 59.49. He also swam a leg on the Wahoos’ 200-yard medley relay team that finished fifth.

Last week’s meet was a big moment for Kealy, a rising senior at Fairfield Prep, who has been moving up the ranks over the last three years.

It almost didn’t happen, however. At one point when in middle school, he decided to giving diving a try, and didn’t swim for about a year. It was a mistake.

“I realized how much I missed swimming,” he said.

His comeback was stalled, however, by three ear surgeries that kept him out of the pool for about a year.

When he did come back, his conditioning wasn’t great, but he found himself determined to get himself back to an elite level.

“I wasn’t very good. I think I got a lot faster when I came back because I was motivated. I’ve been getting faster every year,” he said, adding that things really began to come together by the end of his freshman year.

Since then, a year-round training regimen with the Wahoos, often with two practices per day, has seen Kealy develop into a national-level swimmer in the backstroke.

“Every year I see myself finishing higher and higher up in each meet,” said Kealy, whose other strong events are the butterfly and individual medley.

Kealy’s long-term goals are to keep working hard and lower his times, to swim on the Division I collegiate level, and to make the Olympic team trials in 2020.

For now, he’s happy to see his short-term goals realized with a coveted national championship.

“I really worked hard at practice the whole season,” he said. “It was cool to see all my hard work paying off.”