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Athena Cimino heads into her sophomore season as the leader of the Wiregrass Ranch swim program, based not only on her achievements as a prominent club swimmer but for the dogged determination she displayed in last year’s postseason.
As a freshman, the sprinter won a district title in the 50-yard freestyle despite breaking her left thumb as she touched up too hard in that race.
“It’s not just about that race and where she finished, but how she finished with that broken hand,” second-year coach Tanner Schmitz said. “She should have left and gone to a hospital.”
Shutting it down at that point was not even a consideration for Cimino, who went on to finish as region runnerup and place seventh at states in that event.
“Making it to states has been a goal for so long,” Cimino said. “I know I just couldn’t throw that away over a broken thumb.”
Schmitz, along with Cimino’s teammates, were inspired by her courageous efforts. Before she decided to continue competing at regionals and states, Cimino did not back out of the 200 free relay and 400 free relay she was scheduled to swim at districts with teammates Fern Powell, Chelsea Hernandez and Paige Lenczden. That foursome qualified for regionals in the 200 relay.
“She knew that if she didn’t swim (in the district relays) those girls would not get to regionals,” Schmitz said.
Already inspired by her close friend to join the Wiregrass swimming program and become the school’s first female diver, Alexa Trout said, “I think we’re going to go far, and Athena’s the one to lead the team.”
As for her decision to join the program, Trout said Cimino, a friend since both were seventh-graders at John Long Middle School, “kind of made me want to start swimming.”
The significance of being the first diver in school history is not lost on the close friends.
“It means a lot,” Trout said. “I’m hoping I can help the team.”
Any points scored by Trout, Cimino noted, will be more than in years past when the Bulls had to concede in diving.
For her part, Cimino views herself as a leader but not in a vocal way. She prefers working as hard as she can in practice and going all out in the meets in hopes her teammates will follow suit.
“It’s definitely by example,” Cimino said of her leadership qualities. “I want to show them that hard work pays off. It feels great to know that your working hard motivates other people.”
Cimino, who ran middle distances in track at the middle school, primarily is focused on swimming nowadays. As an 8-year-old she began competing with Tampa Bay Aquatics and has amassed a collection of trophies and medals.
Now, though, she prefers swimming for her high school. Her coach said she bought into the team concept as her freshman year progressed — a markedly different attitude from the individuality of club swimming.
“I saw a transformation in her,” Schmitz said. “She came out for the team as a freshman and she was a stud swimmer, but she had that club mentality. I kept hammering it in that, ‘You’re on a team now. When you’re wearing your Wiregrass Ranch suit you’re on a team.’ ”
Regardless of who she is swimming for, one thing is certain.
“I want to be as good as I can,” Cimino said.