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Swimmer Is NCAA Woman of the Year

October 20, 1997

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Lisa Ann Coole, a swimmer at the University of Georgia, was named the NCAA’s Woman of the Year on Sunday in honor of her academic and athletic achievements and community service.

``I was so honored just to be a state winner, and then to be one of the 10 finalists, to have the NCAA say, `You did it,′ ... it just makes me feel good,″ Coole said.

``I set goals for myself. I’m a really determined person. I’m really hard on myself when I don’t reach them. I didn’t reach all of my goals, but I can at least say I tried my hardest.″

Coole was national champion in the 100-yard butterfly in 1996 and was a member of Georgia’s champion 200-yard freestyle relay team in 1995. She was a three-time medalist in the World University Games.

She graduated from Georgia with a 3.62 grade point average in biology.

``There aren’t many opportunities in athletics for women, so it’s really important that you do well in school,″ said Coole, a Rockford, Ill. native now studying at the University of Illinois to become a veterinarian.

Swimming turned out to be perfect for her.

``There’s something about the water flowing over you. It’s peaceful. It’s relaxing,″ she said. ``It’s such an isolated sport. Your head is always under water so you can’t talk to anyone. You have time to think. You become balanced within yourself.″

It started when her mother nearly drowned in Michigan.

``She was determined that every one of us kids would learn how to swim,″ Coole said. ``She had me in all these classes. Finally, I had the bright idea that if I joined the swimming team, my mother would stop making me go to these classes.″

Coole was active as a youngster in soccer and track, but developed a problem with her knees. One doctor told her she shouldn’t run for a year; another said she should never run again.

So it was off to the pool.

``The most satisfying thing was winning the SEC championship this past year,″ she said. ``The SEC is always dominated by Florida. Swimming is a team sport. If someone doesn’t swim a particularly good race, there is always someone else there to pick them up.″

Besides her swimming scholarship, Coole was one of the few people annually given Foundation Fellowships at Georgia which involved special opportunities to talk with professors about their research as well as meet in small groups with visiting scholars.

The swim team members regularly worked at a homeless shelter in Athens, Ga., ``just (to) interact with the people,″ she said.

``People in that situation can feel hopeless, feel like they are not worthy,″ she said.

But it was Coole’s mentoring of an eighth-grade girl caught in a difficult family situation that gave her the most satisfaction.

``She was on the middle of the fence,″ Coole said. ``She could go the way of school and sports or she could go down the wrong path.″

Coole said that when she helped the girl with school work or took her to a Georgia baseball game ``her eyes would just light up.″

Coole and the other finalists were honored at a dinner Sunday night.

The other finalists were Shelly L. Bartlett, gymnastics, Nebraska; Sara A. Bloom, rowing, Bucknell; Virginia Bolenbaugh, gymnastics, Seattle Pacific; Julie Roe-Sumner, basketball, Millikin; Ann Sieckert, volleyball, Augustana, S.D.; Natasha W. Taylor, basketball, West Texas A&M, Meredith P. Willard, gymnastics, Alabama; Stacey Williams, soccer, track, basketball, Wilmington, Ohio College; and Wendy L. Wolff, softball, University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

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