For swimmers such as Johansen High's Brooke Fuller and Downey's Tim Richard, the third year of high school is doubly important. Not only are their performances in the classroom being tested and judged, but college coaches are grading their performances in the pool.
So these elite athletes are trying to impress colleges by both lowering their times and raising their grade-point averages. It's an important combination, because academic performance can be as important as winning races when it comes to landing a scholarship.
Fuller took that to heart last spring: She was The Bee's Female Swimmer of the Year as a junior, earned all-American status and placed in the top five in her two races at the Sac-Joaquin Section Meet and continued to prevail in her battle with dyslexia.
"My family has always been there for me and helped with my studies, and always encouraged me to form a relationship with my teachers so they could help," said Fuller, who has a 3.0 GPA and is headed to Fresno State on a swimming scholarship. "They taught me to work and persevere even when it seemed like I could never get it. My family made all the difference in my academics."
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Richard also was looking forward to his junior season in the pool, and his physical talent made him every bit the equal of Fuller. He never got to compete — the penalty for paying too little attention to academics.
"The thing that got me in trouble was that I was really lazy," said Richard, who was declared academically ineligible before the start of the 2009 swim season. "(I) wanted to hang out with all my friends rather than do my homework."
Missing the season was enough to convince Richard that he needed new priorities: He got eligible for water polo for his senior year and was runner-up for The Bee's Player of the Year this fall. Now he has a 3.1 GPA.
He shares the credit for his academic renaissance with his friends.
"The thing that helped me most was that I have a few friends who wanted to see me do better, so they pushed me," said Richard, who also had advice for others who might be headed down his path.
"You only get one chance to graduate and go to college. It is easier to start now."
With their academics in order, both Fuller and Richard have been able to dedicate plenty of time to swimming.
They'll be in the pool Saturday for the Stanislaus County Championships at Johansen High, the annual aquatic festival that brings together the top swimmers from the entire Stanislaus District. It's also the last major event before the Section Meet, which will serve as the prep sendoff for the two elite athletes.
"I have known since my freshman year that I wanted to swim in college," said Fuller, inspired by her older brother who is swimming and playing water polo at Concordia University in Irvine. "My brother and I always talk about swimming. He always keeps me going and pushes me to train harder. If I didn't have my brother to push me and talk to me, I don't know where I would be in my swimming but I know I wouldn't be where I am today."
Richard also had an older sibling to serve as motivation.
"The thing that really got me into swimming was my brother," said Richard, who expects to swim with a junior college in the fall before transferring to a four-year school. "I was about 4½ years old when I started. My brother was swimming and he was pretty good. I just wanted to beat him, so I pushed myself until I did. He helped me all the time with my strokes and told me to keep going no matter what happens."
Tim Richard — Downey High swimmer. Story Continues below video.
That encouragement also got Richard back on the academic track, as he transferred lessons learned in the pool to his study sessions.
Today, Richard's typical workout includes 7,000 to 8,000 yards in the pool — burning 3,000 to 4,000 calories.
Fuller is a workout demon, as well, but says the physical demands will increase in college.
"Fresno State is working hard to make a name for itself, since this is the third year (for) the program," Fuller said. "With two-a-day workouts you have to wake up early in the morning, around 5. Then after the morning workout you go get breakfast, then go to class, and study."
If you're lucky, Fuller said, you might sneak in a nap before a more intense afternoon workout.
"After that workout, you might have a dry land (training session) and then you try to find time for dinner, homework and sleep."
"Now if that sounds like a tough day, picture doing that almost every day. Your body feels broken after doing this all season and at times you wonder why you are doing this. But when you hit your best times at the end of the season, then you know why you do multiple workouts a day."