Dive at five

June 14, 2009, midnight | By Susie Branson | 12 years, 5 months ago

Students across the county commit to rigorous swim practice schedules

Pushing herself against the weight of the water, she feels strong and powerful. In a graceful swooping motion, her hands repeatedly rise and then dive back into the water, continuing as the dull pain in her legs and arms begin and her muscles start to ache. Ignoring the sting, she finishes the last lap as her hand hits the wall. And that was only the warm-up. Two hours of pumping, kicking and reaching later, she finally lifts herself out of the pool. Wrapped in a towel, junior Jenna Williams dashes into the bathroom to change. She grabs her backpack before running out the door for school. It is 6:15 in the morning.

Photo: Sophomore Eric Ruggieri swims laps at his local pool. Picture courtesy of Ruggieri.

Across Montgomery County, swim programs that require swimmers to participate in before-school practices are becoming increasingly popular. The most common swim program, the Rockville Montgomery Swim Club (RMSC), requires its highest level of competitive swimmers to come in for an early 4:45 a.m. practice at least two times a week. However, students approach the commitment of RMSC differently, continuously having to make sacrifices to achieve their goals.

No rest for the best

Deciding to further dedicate herself to improving her swim times, senior Renee Brown chose to be home schooled for three years to give her more time to focus on swimming. However, not willing to sacrifice her entire high school experience, she enrolled in Edmund Burke, a small private school, that provides a flexible school schedule allowing Brown to continue practicing at a national level.

Brown is not the only high school student in Montgomery County whose vigorous swimming schedule played a role in choosing a high school. Holy Cross High School junior Mallory Cason is on RMSC's Advanced Senior Group Team and practices every day except Sunday. "On Saturdays, I have to be in the pool by six a.m. for a three hour workout, twice a week before school I have a 4:30 a.m. practice," she says. "For the rest of the week I have two hour practices from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. It's just such a commitment that I needed a school that would understand schedule changes."

Despite these two swimmers' decisions to enroll in smaller private schools for scheduling practices, Blair too holds a number of competitive swimmers that must juggle competitions, practices and a regular public school workload. Both Williams and sophomore Eric Ruggieri participate and practice with RMSC, Williams with the Advanced Seniors Group and Ruggieri with the National Training Group (NTG).

These RMSC practices range from in-water activities to "dry-land" conditioning. According to Cason, the swimmers typically swim a total of two miles every practice, switching between sprints and distance. After each swimmer warms up with specific conditioning catering to their individual event, they then take their practice to the track and run, do pushups, crunches, lunges and various other cardio routines.

In order to reach this level of intensity, these swimmers have typically been competitively swimming at this level for most of their life. Swimming year round on a variety of teams including RMSC and their school and club teams during the summer, most dedicated swimmers have been competing in meets since around the age of eight and have been on some sort of swim team for as long as they can remember.

Depending on the season, each swimmer's practice regimen changes and their outside life must shift accordingly. For Ruggieri, the height of the swimming season requires him to attend eight practices a week: three morning, four afternoons and one Saturday morning practice. Although admitting that these early morning practices can often be aggravating, Ruggieri understands that this is what it will take in order to achieve his goal of swimming in college and maybe even reaching the Olympic trials.

Cool to be at the pool

Each swimmer agrees that the pros to swimming outweigh the cons of these intense practices and scheduling. However, just waking up early and jumping into a cold pool is not the only struggle competitive swimmers must face. Managing meets, practices, school and friends, these swimmers make huge sacrifices in order to continue focusing on their swimming careers. Since William's early morning Saturday practices often "screw up" her Friday nights, she admits that having such a rigorous swim schedule is hard on her social life.

Ruggieri and Williams also agree that with such a demanding swim practice schedule, everything else including schoolwork and friends "often comes second," explains Ruggieri, who is also in Blair's magnet program. "It's a personal responsibility to schedule your day to maximize your time - and it often involves making a lot of sacrifices. Schoolwork is also incredibly important and often putts friends on an even further backburner," Williams admits.

Despite the difficulties these swimmers must endure when in comes to balancing a normal social life and school work, all of this commitment seems to be paying off as both Brown, Cason, Ruggieri and Williams are being invited to many important meets around the area such as Junior Olympics, Metros, State Competitions, Senior Championships and Zone meets, which gather the best swimmers on the East Coast. "I may complain a lot about the practice regimens and commitment, but in the end, I know that I do it because it's what I love," Williams says.

Susie Branson. Key facts of Susie Branson: she's a junior in CAP, her favorite food is peanut butter, she plays soccer and lacrosse, she can't stand talking on the phone, loves country music, and her favorite ice cream is Phish Food. She is way too competitive for … More »

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