Mike Barrowman feels almost as comfortable in water as he does on land. He ought to -- the Churchill High School sophomore learned to swim when he was four months old.

Jenny Albert, Barrowman's grandmother and a swimming instructor for 28 years, was responsible for the early plunge.

"Yes, it was a bit unusual back then to start a child swimming so early," Albert said. "But he was the first grandchild, and I've loved swimming all my life. I would just take him down to the pool with me. Before long he was crawling on the bottom like a fish. We couldn't keep him out of the water."

The years of practice have paid off as Barrowman stroked his way to a first place in the 400-meter individual medley at this spring's Junior Olympics National Championship. Barrowman's winning time was 3.59.85 seconds.

Barrowman placed second in the 200-meter I.M. in 1.53.21 and the 200-meter breast stroke with a 2.05.63. He clocked in at 58.48 seconds for seventh place in the 100-meter breast stroke.

The 16-year-old Rockville resident, along with 14 of teammates, represented the Rockville Montgomery Swim Club at the Junior Olympics, held April 9-13. The club placed sixth in boys' competition, earning 153 points, 21 points more than the club's previous best. The team placed 11th overall out of the more than 300 teams.

"You want to do well for the team and for yourself," said Barrowman. "The whole team had worked hard together all year. We all help each other a lot, and the coaches really help." According to Barrowman, he and his teammates in the National Training Group at the Rockville club have been togethe for awhile.

As Coach Jim Williams explained, swimmers belonging to the group totrain "at a higher level."

"To tell you the truth, I've never had a boy qualify for nationals as young as Mike," said Williams. "He's very talented. He's goal-oriented and he has a terrific work ethic. He knows nothing is handed to you. I think people tend to limit themselves, but Mike's not one who plays the hand that's dealt him. He makes up his mind what he's going to do and he does it.

"Mike qualified for Junior Olympics last spring in one event, and he went, and he didn't do that well. He came back and made up his mind to do lots better next time. So he went back in the summer and wasa sixth in the 100 and 200 breast stroke and 12th or 13th in the 200 I.M.

"This spring he made Senior Nationals and Sports Festival, both are steps up. He's climbing the ladder."