August 4, 2008

Aquatic Club’s Lone Senior Ends Career at Home State Meet

By Leah Rado, The Daily Republic, Mitchell, S.D.

Aug. 2--For the past five years, swimming has been a constant in Steve Larson's life.

The 4.0 student used swimming for the Mitchell Aquatic Club as a release from homework and studying for tests throughout high school, and also as a place to get away when life got tough earlier this year.

Larson's 25-year-old sister, Jessica, passed away after a battle with cancer in February, putting a whole new perspective on life for the recent Mitchell High School graduate.

"Her whole battle with cancer changed a lot of things and outlooks, made me think about things I normally wouldn't," he said.

The struggles the Larson family went through weren't the first the Mitchell Aquatic Club has endured. Another teammate lost a parent to cancer a few years ago, and Larson said his teammates really stepped up to help in both cases.

"The team really came together for us," he said. "We got a swim cap that said 'Swim Strong for Jessica.' Swimming was a place I could go when life was getting me down. I could just be one of the people. Swim team was a constant."

Chuck Baechler, head coach for the MAC, said he tried to keep swimming neutral territory for Larson; somewhere he could go and be just another member of the team.

"It made it very difficult for Steve. It made it very difficult to come here when you have real-life things going on in your life," he said. "I tried to keep swimming a place where he could come and just vent, and leave a little of that hurt and that frustration behind."

Despite the pain of the tragedy, Larson excelled at both swimming and in school. He maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout high school, which is something he is proud of.

"Swimming most of the time is actually a release from homework," he said. "It's nice to excel in swimming and homework. I know there's a lot of kids that excel at sports that let their grades slip, but I know I could go either route and not have to sacrifice one for the other."

Larson will attend Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, in the fall where he plans on majoring in psychology. He is also looking at a biology major so he can get into medical school.

Buena Vista does not have a swim team, which makes this weekend's state swim meet, hosted by the Mitchell Outdoor Aquatic Center, special for the MAC's only senior.

"I'd wanted to swim in college, just the time commitments were so much over and above what it was in high school, so I won't be swimming in college," he said. "I just want this weekend to go well. Competing for the last time and having it here in my home town for the state meet is special. Coach worked hard to get it here, and it will be nice to have it here."

Baechler said that his lone senior was a good example for the younger swimmers his final season and worked hard even though he's not moving on to a higher level of competition.

"He's done really well staying focused, even when he doesn't necessarily have that next level that he's going to go swim at," he said. "It's kind of hard for him to walk away from swimming without following through. He's been really important to our team."

Larson said that, while he felt he took on at least a little bit of a leadership role since he was the team's oldest swimmer, being the elder gave him a different perspective.

"It's kind of different because, seniors in high school, they're always high and mighty," he said. "You go to swim team and you're with everyone else and the younger kids are doing better than you. It gave me new perspective on age not being that important; it's the effort you put into stuff."

Baechler said that Larson's leadership will be missed when his career ends Sunday, as will his family and their involvement in the MAC.

"His family has been very involved in the program and helping at meets," he said. "They've just been a great family, and they're going to leave a lot of holes when Steve moves on. We'll have big shoes to fill all the way around with them."

-- Matt Bunke contributed to this story


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