Record-breaking freshman swimmer takes unexpected path

BY TORK MASON | OCTOBER 13, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa freshman Becky Stoughton never wanted to be a competitive swimmer — but because it was convenient for her parents, a swimmer is exactly what she ended up being.

And it seems to be working for her.

The Peoria, Ill., native set three pool records on Oct. 8 in the Black and Gold Intrasquad meet at the Campus Recreation & Wellness Center. Her three times all ranked in the top 10 in school history in each event, and her times in the 500 and 1,000 freestyles were both good for fourth-best in Hawkeye history.

But when she was little, she said she never would have seen herself setting records. She just wanted to re-enact The Little Mermaid.

"My grandma had a pool when I was little, and I would go over there and swim all the time," Stoughton said. "We used to play around, and she would pretend to be Ursula from The Little Mermaid, and I'd pretend I was Ariel. So I'd be practicing dolphin kicks and everything, as embarrassing as all that is."

She started swimming competitively during the summer before she turned 9 because her brother, Dan, wanted to swim. Her parents made her do it, too, because they said it would be easier to have their children in the same place.

"Honestly, I wanted nothing to do with it," Stoughton said. "I didn't want to wear a dorky cap or anything."

She finished second in all of her events in her first meet ever, but the disappointment of second place didn't last long. She said things started going "really well" after that meet.

"Really well" may be an understatement. Stoughton holds eight school records at Peoria Notre Dame High and was a four-time all-American in high school.

She chose Iowa over Northwestern, Tennessee, and Indiana — the latter two are perennial top-15 swimming programs — and a long list of other schools. When asked why she chose to become a Hawkeye, she said it was a no-brainer.

"Have you been on campus? The atmosphere, it's amazing," she said. "Everybody is so friendly, so welcoming. I just felt like I could be myself. I would fit in and be happy, and nobody would judge me for it."

Being happy is a common state of mind for Stoughton, senior captain Danielle Carty said.

"Whenever she comes on the deck, she's always really happy [and] excited for practice. She's just a really happy person," Carty said. "That's the best way to describe her."

Carty also said Stoughton wants to talk with everyone, which makes her an easy person to get along with. But at the same time, Stoughton is so competitive she will compete against the men's swimmers in practice.

That's nothing new. When she trained in Dunlap, Ill., as a young girl, she competed against the high-school swimmers during practice — including former Hawkeye Matt Ryan.

Head coach Marc Long called Stoughton a spark plug who is always in a good mood and willing to do anything for the team and said he's excited to have an athlete such as her on the team because of the effect she can have on her teammates.

"She's got a great attitude for the sport, and that's contagious," he said.

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