Togetherness, toughness motivate Nazareth swimmers

Pool­ing their re­sources: Lauren Hirst was among a hand­ful of Naz­areth Academy swim­mers to help the school place 20th in the state com­pet­i­tion. Else­where, ju­ni­or Shan­non Har­ring­ton par­ti­cip­ated in a na­tion­al swim­ming show­case in Or­lando, Fla. MELISSA YERKO

— A hand­ful of Naz­areth Academy swim­mers, led by seni­or Lauren Hirst and ju­ni­or Shan­non Har­ring­ton, re­cently par­ti­cip­ated in state and na­tion­al com­pet­i­tions.


When Naz­areth Academy’s Lauren Hirst jumped in­to the pool dur­ing the PI­AA state swim­ming cham­pi­on­ships at Buck­nell Uni­versity from March 13-16, all of her nerves floated away.

Shan­non Har­ring­ton, al­most 900 miles away in Or­lando, Fla., couldn’t help but think of Hirst and her four Naz­areth team­mates at states up north be­fore she swam in USA Swim­ming’s Ju­ni­or Na­tion­al meet (from March 11-17).

After all, swim­ming was the com­mon de­nom­in­at­or that had brought them al­to­geth­er to chase suc­cess in the pool, even if they were nearly a thou­sand miles apart at that par­tic­u­lar mo­ment in time.

Com­pet­ing against each oth­er dur­ing gruel­ing pre­dawn prac­tices six to sev­en days throughout the sea­son was what got them to this point.

“Dur­ing prac­tice, we all kind of push each oth­er to go faster,” Har­ring­ton said be­fore she de­par­ted for Flor­ida. “It’s much harder to swim by your­self.”

Hirst agreed.

“Shan­non al­ways has im­press­ive times and is so amaz­ing in the pool that she’s mo­tiv­ated me to step my game up,” Hirst said. “Noth­ing about it was lucky.”

To re­cap, Hirst, a seni­or, and Har­ring­ton, a ju­ni­or, com­peted in the PI­AA Class AA Dis­trict One cham­pi­on­ships at the turn of the month at La Salle Uni­versity. For the first time in Naz­areth’s his­tory, the school had three of its stu­dents — Har­ring­ton, Hirst and Har­ring­ton’s young­er sis­ter, Mary, a sopho­more — fin­ish in the top three in one event, in this case the 200-meter free­style. Shan­non Har­ring­ton placed first, fol­lowed by Hirst and Mary. Sub­sequently, Shan­non bolted for Or­lando, while Hirst, Mary Har­ring­ton and fel­low Naz­areth swim­mers Lauren Bele­canech, Grace Kow­al and Molly Kow­al were bound for Buck­nell.

Al­though none of the Naz­areth swim­mers in ques­tion were vic­tori­ous in any of the events they par­ti­cip­ated in last week (Hirst placed 16th in the 200 free; Molly Kow­al placed 10th in the 200 in­di­vidu­al med­ley and 12th in the 100 breast­stroke; Grace Kow­al placed 6th in the 500 free; and Mary Har­ring­ton placed 11th in the 500 free), they man­aged to fin­ish a re­spect­able 20th in the state out of the 53 schools who swam at Buck­nell.

As Shan­non Har­ring­ton can cer­tainly at­test to, the state — and es­pe­cially na­tion­al — swim meets be­come much grander in scale, so achiev­ing vic­tory is not al­ways in the cards. Rather, the girls fo­cused on get­ting the best time they could, or at least im­prov­ing upon show­ings from pre­vi­ous years.

For ex­ample, Hirst’s time of 2:00.06 at states was a few seconds be­hind the 1:57.30 mark she swam at dis­tricts; however, her time in the 200 free this year at states placed her 16th over­all, up three places from 19th a year ago.

Above any­thing else, par­ti­cip­at­ing in such com­pet­it­ive events against the cream of swim­ming’s crop in­dic­ates how far each swim­mer has come over the course of her ca­reer to date. Climb­ing out of the pool after an en­ergy-sap­ping event is a grat­i­fy­ing ex­per­i­ence, serving as a re­mind­er as to why girls like Hirst and Shan­non Har­ring­ton began swim­ming in the first place.

“I’ve swam since I was four years old, so this is 14 years for me,” said Hirst, who hopes to con­tin­ue swim­ming at the club level at either of her top col­lege choices, the Uni­versit­ies of Pitt­s­burgh and Con­necti­c­ut. “It’s such a dis­cip­lined sport, one that you prac­tice lit­er­ally all year round. Your body has muscle memory, so all the work you’ve put in shows up at the end of your sea­son.

“If you want to do well in the sport, you have to train day in and day out and be will­ing to push your­self for sev­er­al hours a day,” she con­tin­ued. “Men­tally, you have to get your­self to the point where you say to your­self, ‘I can do this, I can do this.’ That’s the biggest obstacle, much more so than the phys­ic­al as­pect.”

For Shan­non Har­ring­ton, she uses swim­ming as mo­tiv­a­tion to­ward at­tack­ing the ad­versity life throws her way. Her fath­er has battled health prob­lems since she was in sixth grade, and has com­bated the emo­tions stem­ming from her dad’s trips to dia­lys­is or the hos­pit­al by chan­nel­ing her frus­tra­tion in the pool.

“Throughout everything, swim­ming has been the one con­sist­ent thing that I’ve had in my life,” she said. “For me, it’s an out. I can just get in the pool, do what I need to do and worry about everything else later. When I’m swim­ming, I don’t think about any­thing else.”

Be­ing around the wa­ter has also been a fam­ily af­fair for the Har­ring­ton’s. Sep­ar­ated by just one year, Shan­non and Mary get to at­tend the same school and swim on the same team as each oth­er throughout the sea­son. Their older sis­ter, Meghan, swam at Naz­areth and is cur­rently a fresh­man mem­ber of the wo­men’s row­ing team at Saint Joseph’s Uni­versity.

The 3:45 a.m. wake-up calls for morn­ing prac­tice were hard to handle at first, but Shan­non said the fam­ily learned to love rising well be­fore every­body else.

“Nobody ever really com­plained,” she said. “It’s hard wak­ing up so early, and nobody really wants to do that. But once you’re up, you get mov­ing and it’s not so bad. What gets me go­ing is those goals I set for my­self be­fore the sea­son, ones that I want to work to­ward. When the alarm goes off and I’m ly­ing in bed, that’s what’s on my mind.”

The scar­i­est thing about such an ac­com­plished swim­mer like Shan­non Har­ring­ton is that she’s still only a ju­ni­or in high school, mean­ing her best swim­ming days may still be in front of her.

“I just really en­joy it,” she said. “It’s very de­mand­ing, and you have to give up a lot. It’s fun. I just love to swim. I could swim for hours by my­self and not com­plain.”

As for Hirst, her high school swim­ming ca­reer is fin­ished, but she sus­pects the sport to al­ways be a part of her life.

“I’ve al­ways swam, and I think it’s something I’ll prob­ably con­tin­ue, even if it’s only for my­self,” she said. “For me, it of­fers a cer­tain com­fort zone. If I didn’t have it in my life, I’d prob­ably go in­sane.” ••

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