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Pair from Iowa contributing early for Iowa

BY IAN MURPHY | NOVEMBER 04, 2014 5:00 AM

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The road to Iowa City is different for every member of the Iowa men’s swimming and diving team, but for two freshmen from Iowa, their paths have repeatedly crossed.

“It’s weird with USA swimming how sections are set up,” said freshman Thomas Rathbun, a native of Sioux Center. “Our side of Iowa goes with Nebraska, so I’ve raced [roommate RJ Hemmingsen] since I was 8 years old. I’ve known him since I’ve been swimming.”

Hemmingsen, a product of Lewis Central High in Council Bluffs, was a two-time state champion in the 100 butterfly and set the state record his senior year. He also qualified for Junior Nationals in four events. He has posted the third fastest 100-butterfly time for the Hawkeyes.

“RJ was just a real up- and-coming swimmer,” head coach Marc Long said. “We knew he had speed, and he just kind of blew up his senior year.”

For Hemmingsen, Iowa was always in the back of his mind. He took official visits to Minnesota, Iowa, and Ohio State and ultimately decided on the school 242.5 miles east on Interstate 80 because of a connection he felt to the coaching staff and the team. He liked the idea of swimming close to home as well.

“I guess swimming for your home-state university is a really amazing opportunity,” Hemmingsen said.

Rathbun’s journey to Iowa was a slightly different. When he was in high school, he moved to Michigan after his sophomore year to live with his aunt and train.

“It was hard for those years,” said Rathbun, an All-American in the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle. “From idea to moving out to Michigan was less than a month. It was a hard adjustment, and it was still a little difficult going into senior year.”

Rathbun, who posted Iowa’s fastest 200-freestyle time of the season at Minnesota on Halloween, lived with an aunt on his father’s side of the family while he was in Michigan, and he initially had no interest in Iowa. But he gave it consideration to humor his parents. As his journey went on, he found Iowa more appealing.

“As the process went on, as I talked to the coaches more and got to the point of setting up visits, I found it in my top five, and so that even surprised me how much I liked it,” he said.

His final four were Iowa, Missouri, LSU, and Purdue. Ultimately, he decided on Iowa, and he hasn’t looked back yet.

“I got here on my visit and just fell in love with the team, and the facilities can’t be beat anywhere,” he said. 

Coming back to Iowa has allowed his family to attend more of his meets. He said he has had family attend every meet so far, and he would have fans in the stands at Minnesota, and although Iowa State does not have a men’s swimming team, he has a greater appreciation for the rivalry between the schools.

“Each recruiting story is a little different, and with RJ and Thomas, it’s the same thing,” Long said.

Despite the differences in their recruiting, the roads led to, or back to, Iowa for the duo. Although it is early in their college careers, if their performances so far are any indication, their decisions to follow those roads will prove to be a good one.

“A lot of other states have powerhouse teams, like the Coastal States,” Hemmingsen said. “And I think Iowa is a strong contender.”

Follow @IanFromIowa on Twitter for news, udpates, and analysis about the Iowa men’s swimming team.


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