Every Tuesday and Thursday morning during the school week, Virginia Burns rolls out of bed at 4:30. She grabs a bagel while Rascal and Missy, her terrier mutts, watch her sneak out of the house in a groggy rush, bound for a 5:15 swim practice with the Weymouth Club Waves.
She keeps a jar of peanut butter in the cup holder of her 2003 red Mercury station wagon and dips her bagel in the paste for breakfast. From Weymouth, it’s off to Brockton High for the 7:10 morning bell.
After classes, Burns is in the high school pool for a three-hour practice. She’s home for a quick meal, but drives back to Weymouth again for a 6 p.m. session with her club team. She gets home three hours later.
“Then I have to do my homework,” Burns said. “So I’m still up until 12 or 12:30. I drink a lot of hot chocolate and coffee. It’s become routine.”
The 17-year-old Brockton High senior skips the early morning practice three out of five school days, but the routine has helped her become one of the most accomplished swimmers in the state.
At the 2012 South Sectional meet, Burns set the 50 freestyle and the 100 butterfly meet records, and she defended her title in this year’s competition on Nov. 9. Burns broke her own record on the latter event, outpacing the competition to set the bar at 56.58.
A returning Globe All-Scholastic, she also holds the 100 free record for the Division 1 state meet. She will aim for a repeat Sunday at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool. Next month, she will compete at the Speedo junior nationals in Greensboro, N.C.
Making a splash
Burns, the most decorated swimmer in program history, owns six of the Boxers’ eight individual relay records. She broke her first record (50 free, 25.56) as a freshman.
Coach Michelle Zachary said that at this point, she always expects Burns to exceed expectations.
“Every few years, there’s this standout swimmer,” said Zachary (Brockton High, Class of 2000), who is in her seventh season as coach. “But Virginia stands out above them all. It’s going to be sad to see her go. It’s so exciting to watch her, we’re going to miss it.”
Burns, who took her first swim lesson at age 5, competed with the Storm, based out of the Old Colony YMCA in Brockton and Middleborough. That experience helped her make an impact at her first high school practice.
Her older brother John, a cross-county runner at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, played baseball and took karate growing up. Virginia tried to follow his path, but latched on to swimming instead because of the individual nature of the sport.
At first, “I was actually afraid of the water,” Burns said with a laugh. She overcame her fear, but remained timid until her first high school meet, when she defeated girls from other schools.
“I was like, ‘This is kind of fun; I like this,’ ” she recalled.
Brockton has qualified for the fall state meet every year since 2008. Aside from Burns’ individual skill, relays have traditionally been the team’s strong point.
The program often gets lost in the shuffle among students between the popularity of the football and basketball programs, but Burns’s success has ignited interest in the sport.
Laurinda Rocha, a junior diver for the Boxers, said that her peers are aware of the team’s success, particularly of Burns.
“People ask me, ‘Do you know Virginia Burns?’ ” said Rocha. “They’ll be like, ‘I hear so many good things about her, I just want to meet her.’ There’s a good amount of knowledge of her.”
As a diver, Rocha competes separately from the swimmers, but she emphasized that Burns and junior Rebecca Golding, the team captains, serve as motivators for her.
Hearing Burns’s schedule and time commitment to swimming serves as an incentive for Rocha to keep working at her craft.
Team captains Burns and Golding are close friends.
The two coincidentally dressed as Peter Pan and a pirate for Halloween last year, and intentionally matched this year as “minions” from the 2010 comedy “Despicable Me.”
They’re also in the school band: Golding on clarinet while Burns is by her side on bass clarinet.
The two met when Golding was in fourth grade, but they didn’t really bond until they became teammates. They have a playful sports rivalry, but a mutual respect exists between the two. Golding said having a teammate with Burns’s ability is an invaluable luxury.
“Having that is seriously an inspiration, but also a motivator,” Golding said. “Even during practice, you see her a body length ahead of you and it just makes you actually push yourself to say, ‘Oh my God, can I touch the wall before her?’ ”
Burns said it’s nice that her achievements are acknowledged. But the humble teen downplays the spotlight out of concern that she would come off as a braggart.
She says her success feels surreal because she can clearly remember coming to the team as a freshman. With one more chance to compete for the Boxers, she paused to reflect on all the memories — and Brockton swimming apparel — she has accumulated over the years.
Burns said that before departing to swim at the University of Pennsylvania, her goal is to leave the Boxers with high expectations. She believes she’s done her part to give the program momentum and some popular standing compared with other school sports.
Her other goal, if she can help it, is to see her name on the wall when she comes back for a visit.
“I’m hoping the records will stay for a little while,” Burns said. “Fingers crossed.”