June 8, 2005 - When Lindsey Russenberger was 6, the pool wasn't always the safest place. More than 13 years later, however, it may very well be her second home.
One of the most decorated athletes to come out of Marana High School in more than a decade, Russenberger is quickly emerging as one of the nation's top swimming sensations. After a stellar career at Marana, Russenberger didn't let up. She burst onto the collegiate swimming scene at the University of Wyoming.
She's come a long way from being the little girl attempting to swim in the Marana pool.
"When I was 6, I almost drowned at the Marana pool," Russenberger said, laughing in hindsight. "When I went to my mom when I was 11 and said I want to swim for the summer, she said 'Lindsey, I really don't know if you should do that.'"
Mom doesn't worry anymore. In fact, Russenberger's mother, Kim Dillon, is not only her biggest fan but also can tell you any of her daughter's stats, times or finishes from any meet that took place during the three years she swam at Marana.
That feat in itself is highly commendable, considering that by the time Russenberger graduated in 2004 she held every swimming record at Marana, both in individual events and as a member of team relays.
Dillon did have the best seat in the house to witness her daughter swimming in high school; she's the Tigers' assistant coach. Although freshman Madison Hill snatched the school mark in the 100 backstroke, this season, Russenberger still holds the Tigers' top marks in the 50, 100, 200 and 500 freestyles, the 100 fly, the 100 breaststroke and the 200 individual medley. She is also a member of the school's record-setting 200 medley relay and of the 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams.
"Lindsey is one of those people that your jaw drops when you watch her compete," said Marana head coach Kristen Bourget. "She's such a strong practice swimmer, but when she gets in competition she just takes it to a whole new level."
Russenberger's domination in the pool continued this season after she packed her swim cap and headed north to Laramie, Wyo. In her freshman year, she claimed the Wyoming school records in the 100 and 200 backstroke - her specialties.
The sophomore to be had a feeling that she would one day own the Wyoming school records in the 100 and 200 backstroke. After all, she was swimming at the record's pace while still at Marana.
Texas A&M, Florida Atlantic University and UCLA recruited Russenberger - Marana's first athlete to earn a Division I scholarship in more than 10 years - who opted instead for Wyoming and its coaches and change in seasons. Working with Wyoming coach Tom Johnson has proved beneficial to Russenberger's ability to seamlessly adjust to the college level.
In seven seasons at the helm of Cowboys swimming, Johnson has resurrected Wyoming's program, topping off last year by taking pupil Scott Usher to the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.
Russenberger said Johnson can provide the same opportunity for her, but she has to be willing to work harder than she's ever worked before.
After one year at Wyoming, Russenberger's impact paid off in the form of post-season awards, most notably the team's Athlete of the Year award.
"I didn't expect that," said Russenberger of the honor. "There were a lot of good girls on our team that contributed a lot of points; I was really surprised about that."
Despite missing out on qualifying for the NCAA championships by a hundredth of a second, Russenberger said she is on her way to fulfilling what she hopes to accomplish with her swimming career at Wyoming.
"I have a lot of goals for myself," she said. "I want to go to the NCAA championships before I graduate. That's a huge goal. To get those times is better than the Olympic trial cut, so you definitely got to be one of the elite in the country."
Russenberger may have barely missed out on the NCAA championships this season, but the freshman qualified for the World Championship Swimming Trials held April 1 through 6 in Indianapolis. She and Usher were the only two Cowboy representatives at the time trials for this summer's World Championships.
Against the top competition in the country, Russenberger finished 39th in Indianapolis with a time of 1:15.15 - about eight seconds behind the leader, Olympian Tara Kirk.
This summer, Russenberger will "take it easy" after her first collegiate season in the pool. She'll opt to work out with Tucson Ford Aquatic at the University of Arizona pool. Russenberger has been a member of Ford since she was 13, soaking in the tutelage of some of the finest coaches in the Southwest. "Taking it easy" means Russenberger will slash her normal week's workouts from swimming 10 times a week to swimming somewhere around five.
As for the future of Marana swimming, Russenberger said she is proud to tell folks she swam at the Class 4A school. Swimming team numbers at Marana are beginning to skyrocket and could push upward of 125 swimmers this fall, although that number will likely come down once the season starts. At a recent recruiting trip to Marana Middle School, 77 eighth graders showed initial interest in joining the swim team in the fall, which is a significant number considering the program started with just 14 swimmers four years ago.
To put those numbers in perspective, Catalina Foothills, which claims a virtual stronghold on high school swimming in Arizona, checks in within around 80 to 85 swimmers a season.
Marana, which will enter its fifth season as a program this fall, can thank Russenberger for helping to get the program off the ground.