When your first word is "ball," it's a safe bet that, at some point, you're going to get some enjoyment out of athletics.
That's certainly been the case for Kenai's J.D. Pault. The Kardinals senior just finished up with the high school swim season and will start basketball practice next week.
After that, it's on to high school soccer, followed by American Legion baseball, and, when he can find time to squeeze it in, a few rounds of golf.
"If you ask him what his favorite sport is, he'll say it's whatever he's playing at the time," said Pault's mother, Katie. "He's always had either a ball or a bat or something in his hand."
"It keeps me busy," Pault said of his hectic schedule. "I have a schedule to follow, and it teaches me discipline.
"I'm actually going to the Kenai Recreation Center now to get ready for basketball. I don't have much of a break, but I can't afford one because everyone else has been playing basketball all year."
Pault's swim season was disrupted by a nagging back injury, keeping him out of the pool for part of the season. Still, he qualified for the state championships in the 100-yard backstroke and the 50 freestyle and went on to swim some excellent times at the state meet.
"It was a struggle," Pault said. "At the end, I was glad I stayed with it. In the middle of the season I questioned whether to stay with it or not.
"At state, I dropped time, but I knew I wasn't going to be able to compete at the same level as the rest of the competitors. I was just happy to make it."
Talent in the pool runs in the Pault family. Pault's mother was his first swim coach when the family lived in Saudi Arabia when Pault was 6 years old. His older sister, Stacey, was a standout swimmer for the Kardinals before moving on to a college career.
Despite the athletic family background, Pault said he never felt pressured to surpass the standard set by his sister.
"You have high expectations, but she was a good person to follow," Pault said of his sister. "I feel I'd be up there at her level if my back hadn't plagued me."
"I think she set the bar. I think he just excelled because that was the thing to do," Katie said. "They never directly competed, but she always excelled. He just figured it was his job, too.
"Those two got along good. Those two were good teammates."
Pault's desire to excel has impressed all of his coaches. He has been named to tournament good sport teams -- an honor that requires a nomination from his coach -- on five occasions, once for basketball and four times for soccer.
"He works hard to do what you ask him to," said Kenai basketball coach Rich Bartolowits. "The kids all respect him and they like his work ethic. He definitely has a leadership role. As a senior, he'll undoubtedly step up this season.
"He's just a great kid to have around. You can trust him to do something you ask him to do, and he'll do it in a way that'll make you look good."
Pault has been a key contributor for the Kardinals basketball team for three seasons, and Bartolowits expects him to be just as important, if not more so, to the team this season.
"We're going to be good this year," Pault said. "We're going to have a lot of seniors that have been playing together for a while."
The same should hold true for Kenai's soccer team next spring, where Pault has helped the Kardinals to state tournament berths in each of the last two seasons.
Pault started his baseball career in Little League, coached by his father, Joe, and has worked his way up to the American Legion Post 20 Twins.
Pault also credited his dad for getting him hooked on golf.
"I do that before baseball practice," Pault said. "Baseball definitely conflicts with golf, but I can't give up either one."
Pault said his parents have been supportive of every activity he's chosen to pursue.
"I owe a lot of my success to my parents," Pault said.
Pault has been just as successful in the classroom, where he maintains a 4.0 grade point average.
"My dad covers math and science and my mom is more of the language arts and reading," Pault said of the help he gets from home.
"He's very self-motivated. He takes care of (his academics) on his own," Katie said. "We just look at his grades."
Pault said he'd like to pursue a degree in engineering in college, and is considering Colorado State or Montana State.
Pault also is a member of the National Honor Society, the Vocational Industrial Club of America and a community service club called Interact.
In his free time, he plays guitar, another hobby he picked up from his father.
Not that Pault has much in the way of free time. Athletics and academics dominate most of his schedule, but he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I've made a lot of friends (through athletics), and you get to meet and make new friends," Pault said. "It teaches you how to overcome failure -- I haven't been on the winning team all the time, and I've learned how to bounce back from losses. And you stay in great shape."
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