If Gaithersburg High School senior distance swimmer Ellen Anderson isn’t at school, at the pool or doing homework, chances are she’s trying to fit in a quick nap.
Scheduled to swim at NCAA Division I Northwestern University in Chicago, where she was recruited to swim the 500-yard and one-mile freestyle events, Anderson said people expect distance swimmers to have an endless amount of energy.
But swimming thousands of yards on a daily basis in addition to dry-land work — Anderson trains nearly 20 hours per week with the Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club — is exhausting.
Anderson had verbally committed to a scholarship at the University of Maryland. But the day before she expected to sign her letter of intent, it was announced that the Terrapins’ program was a victim of budget cuts.
“Sometimes I get really tired, and it’s hard with how many practices I go to and school and homework,” Anderson said. “People say, ‘Oh, you’re a distance swimmer, you must be the Energizer bunny.’ I try to take naps when I can. But I think [all the work] pays off in the end.”
While training for distance events can become mundane, Anderson said she relishes the strategic aspect that comes with longer races.
“I think it’s much harder to be a distance swimmer than a sprinter,” second-year Gaithersburg coach Shannon King said. “A 50 is short, it’s fast and it’s over quick. [In some of those distance events] you know you’re going to be in the water for 15 to 20 minutes. You have to be mentally strong to do that for that amount of time. And I think Ellen does a great job at that.”
No high school outside of Bethesda, Potomac or Rockville has finished in the top three at the Montgomery County championship meet since Sherwood’s third-place finish in 2008.
High school teams’ success is reliant on the number of year-round swimmers in the program.
Anderson is proof that elite-level talent can be found countywide.
She was one of only three event winners (500 freestyle) out of 11 total races at last year’s county meet who was not from Walt Whitman, Winston Churchill, Walter Johnson or Thomas S. Wootton.
But Anderson said she is not concerned with accolades, a quality King said she admires in her captain.
When it comes to high school swimming, Anderson said her priority is supporting her teammates, encouraging them to become more involved in swimming and helping to grow the Gaithersburg program.
The Trojans, who compete in the county’s Division III, have moved up in the county rankings each of the past three years. After a 15th-place finish in 2009, they were 13th last winter.
Gaithersburg’s boys, led by national-level swimmer Tyler Pham, also jumped from 14th to 12th over the past two years.
“I definitely think [Gaithersburg swimming] is growing and we have an increase of club swimmers this year,” Anderson said. “I think it’s cool; before, I don’t think people even knew we had a swim team.”
Before each practice, King gives Anderson a choice between helping her coach or swimming.
While Anderson always is up for helping her less-experienced teammates with technique, she opts for the latter every time.
A top-three finisher in both the 500-yard freestyle and 100 backstroke at the 2011 Washington Metropolitan Interscholastic Swimming and Diving Championships, Anderson certainly doesn’t need the extra two hours in the water.
“It shows the other kids that even though she does put in all this work during the week, she’s not above swimming with the rest of them,” King said. “She’s in the relays with these kids, it’s setting a good example. It’s hard sometimes being the only coach, sometimes I use the captains or the club swimmers as assistants. Any time I need her, she’s always willing to do that too.”