Swimmer goes from "Playa" to "Racer"

BY TORK MASON | OCTOBER 27, 2011 7:20 AM

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Most college freshmen could be described as immature. But people who know Iowa freshman swimmer Heather Arseth say she has done a lot of growing up.

The Plymouth, Minn., native was once a "player," according to her former high-school teammate and current Northwestern senior swimmer Shelby Johnson.

Johnson used to drive Arseth to practices, and they had their own song in the car.

"When she was a freshman in high school, we had a theme song in the car, and she would dress up with the theme song … the song 'I'm a Playa' [by Tech N9ne]," Johnson said.

Well, maybe not exactly dressing up.

"We would pop our collars and jam out on the car ride to practice," Arseth said and laughed.

Johnson said Arseth has matured each year as a swimmer, both physically and mentally.

"She used to be a 5-foot, teeny little girl, and now she's filled out a lot," Johnson said. "She's more serious, too. She works a lot harder now that she realizes [swimming] is something she loves to do."

That maturation process started when Arseth was 9 years old and training with the Mach 3 Flyers, a club in the Minneapolis area that has produced numerous Divison-I swimmers.

"I've only stopped swimming once in my life," she said. "[When I was 9], I told my mom I didn't like swimming anymore, but I actually just didn't like how cold the pool was."

But she wasn't able to stay dry for long.

"My mom would tell me the pool was getting warmer," Arseth said. "In two months, I had grown up enough to not get cold at practice anymore, because I would always watch the older kids in practice, and they were never cold."

Now, Arseth is what head coach Marc Long describes as a "racer."

"That's something we try to find," Long said. "I know that seems silly to say when we're in competitive swimming, but you'd be surprised at how many people are just really good practice swimmers."

He said it appears Arseth loves to race and performs at her best in the biggest meets.

"When it's a big meet, she seems to race well," he said.

Johnson also said Arseth is still a happy-go-lucky person who is always excited and willing to talk with people, but said her younger friend's ability to zero in at a meet is key to her success.

"Once she gets up behind the blocks, she's focused, [and] set on doing her best and getting her hand on the wall," Johnson said.

Arseth said she made the decision to display her talent and focus with the Black and Gold after seeing the kind of team chemistry the Hawkeyes have.

"This team is closer, more family-like," she said. "In the dorms, everyone's doors are always open, and we're always visiting with each other. I noticed at other schools that you don't always have that same kind of chemistry."

Long said he's optimistic about Arseth's potential.

"We're just hoping to see her continue to race and go for wins — it's pretty simple," he said.

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