Ohio Swimming And Diving: Laura Dawson’s Journey To Ohio

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Laura Dawson’s father threw his 9-year-old daughter into the sport of swimming because he knew she could do something special with the same competitive spirit he always had.

Dawson now ranks among the top performers of the Ohio women’s swimming and diving team.

Hailing from Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, Dawson is a sophomore transfer student who specializes in butterfly and backstroke. Not only does she want to win MAC’s this year, but also wants to take her talents to the next level.

“I want to make NCAA’s and place as high as I can there too,” she said. “All you can really do is do the best you can. That’s what I’ve struggled with a lot through my swimming career.”

Dawson is making an immediate impact with the Bobcats.  She’s won at least two individual events in four out of the first five meets and looks to be an unstoppable force in the MAC.

In her 2012-2013 season at Kentucky, she was the top Wildcat in the 200 IM and both the 100 and 200 backstrokes; she was also an SEC finalist.  After a successful freshman campaign at Kentucky, she returned to her home in England because her father was ill.

“My mom wouldn’t have been able to leave work,” Dawson said.  “So I went home for a year to help the family and stuff cause at the end of the day something’s got to give.” Dawson spent the year caring for her father and training with her club team. 

Her father has been supportive of her swimming career since it began at the age of nine. When it came time to decide where to go to college, she was persuaded by her father to come to the United States because it presented her with the best opportunity.

“If you really want to pursue your sport and an education, America’s the place to be,” Dawson said. Her father continued to support her along the way and even kept up with her career when she went to Kentucky. He wanted to talk about her races while she was on the bus ride back.

“He’d be trying to Skype me to the point where I’d be like ‘dad just calm down,’” she said. “He’d set off in the middle of the night sometimes and get my times and be like ‘oh what happened on this what happened on that.’” This spirit and motivation was a constant throughout her career.

She credits this motivation as a key to her swimming excellence.

“You take a lot of hits, and as a teenage girl most people are like ‘too many hits, I’m going down,’” she said. “My dad was always there to pick me back up when I fell and yeah, he really is my inspiration, and he used to always just follow my swimming … never used to stop. I miss him, but he’s still there.”

Dawson’s father passed away over the summer, but she decided to keep her swimming career on track and come to Ohio.

“It’s kind of rolling with the punches,” she said. “You take blows, and some are way bigger than others, but it didn’t happen to me. I’ve still got my health … I wouldn’t let it break me. I wouldn’t let it stop me.” Though her father is her inspiration, she knows that she needs to keep motivating and pushing herself because it is her career after all.

“If you’re not doing a sport for yourself, what’s the point in doing it?” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, my dad hasn’t left me. You might not be able to see him, but he hasn’t left me.”

Even without visiting the Ohio’s beautiful Athens campus, Dawson went with her gut and chose Athens. She has enjoyed Ohio since first stepping foot on campus this fall and likes the change.

“I feel like anyone can succeed in any environment as long as you’ve got the right sort of people that can help you, and I have [that],” she said. The team has been a great support system for her. 

“If I needed somebody to talk to, they’d make the effort to come and speak to me even though they don’t even know me,” Dawson said. “That says a lot about character.”

Until her arrival at Ohio, Dawson recently trained with just men.  Last year while back in England, her club team didn’t count her as a sprinter because she didn’t have the size.  Since she needed more intense training, she practiced with the guys.  Dawson thinks the experience has made her a better because training solely with men kept her accountable

Being on an all-girls team is new, but she likes the community it provides.  She’s been thankful for how open her teammates have been during this rough time in her life.

Dawson spent her freshman year swimming in the SEC, one of the most competitive conferences for the sport, but now comes to the MAC, a mid-major.  The change in the level of competition doesn’t alter Dawson’s aspirations. 

“If I’m in the swimming pool doing me [and] doing things for my team, as long as there’s a pool there and some lectures, I’m good,” she said.  Even with that mentality, Dawson likes how her new coaches, compared to the typical collegiate-level coach, focus on the individual.

“At Kentucky, it was a lot more up and down freestyle,” Dawson said. “I feel like what Rachel is getting me to do is a little more worthwhile … It adds a bit more excitement to pushing off a wall, getting to a wall, pushing off a wall.”

First year Ohio head coach Rachel Komisarz-Baugh, a University of Kentucky alumna, didn’t know she’d be working with a former Wildcat before she was on the job.

“I was pretty excited just knowing the caliber of athlete she was,” Komisarz-Baugh said. She believes Dawson will be a key player in turning the program around. 

The rookie head coach has high expectations for Dawson not just at college, but also beyond.  Swimming for the English or British national team is on radar of both swimmer and coach.

“[We’re] trying to get her to swim a little more international competition and go home and represent her country,” Komisarz-Baugh said. “That’s definitely something we’re looking for.”

“If I’m swimming well, why not swim when I’m 31 like Rachel?” Dawson said.

Before Dawson’s father passed, he made sure she would continue her swimming career. When talking about her future in swimming, a smile sneaks on to Dawson’s face. 

“I’m one of the people that just rolls … with it,” she said. “I veer it where I want it to be … So yeah, you’ll have to ask me [about the future] at the end.”