ATASCADERO — Aleah Russell attends the tiny Shandon High School and is breaking the mold of what was previously thought possible for a swimmer at that school. She has taken up a sport no other Shandon athlete has, and is not merely competing, but excelling.
On March 10, Russell attended the Mt. Sac Invitational swim meet that featured more than 1,000 swimmers and put down her best time in the 100-meter breaststroke, a 1:14:53, which is fast enough to automatically qualify her for CIF.
There is no pool at Shandon High School and there is also no swim team.
“There is a pool — it's the county pool,” Russell said. “But I don't swim
Russell is as dedicated as an athlete can be. She makes the drive to Kennedy Club Fitness in Paso Robles to train and does so at least once every day.
“I swim morning practices on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday,” Johnson said. “And afternoons every day with mornings on Saturday as well.”
Because Shandon does not have a swim team they are not invited to swim meets and Russell must swim as a freelance athlete. Last week she joined the Atascadero and Mission Prep dual meet and swam in two events, the 50-meter freestyle and the 100-meter breaststroke.
In her premiere event, she finished second with a time of 1:19:12 but is already guaranteed a spot in CIF. The week before Russell joined the Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo dual meet and was the only swimmer donning a blue cap and swimsuit.
Her love of swimming started when she was young and swam with local club teams in the area. Russell also participates in Future Farmers of America and the Associated Student Body at Shandon and after realizing she didn't like other sports as much as swimming, she decided to return to the water.
“I swam when I was little,” Russell said. “With Puma, then NCAA and then with Aquacats and then last year I decided to go back to swimming because I didn't really like basketball or anything.”
Russell is soft-spoken and a little shy until she climbs onto the blocks where she stands seven feet tall atop a mountain of confidence in her abilities and the hard work she has put in.
“I want to say thank you to all the local teams that have allowed me to swim freelance,” Russell said.