TUCSON, Ariz. — Most high school swimmers go into a meet focused on defeating the competition and improving a personal record.
Lacey Nymeyer used to pack along her scriptures and find time to read between races so she could mark her seminary reading calendar.
It was a small habit that helped her build a personal testimony and keep life in perspective. It was her spiritual edge.
Later on when she won national and world titles, a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics and was named 2009 NCAA woman of the year, Nymeyer said her success was built on a spiritual foundation.
"The gospel has put life in balance. At the end of the day, whether I swam well or not, I was still going to be Lacey, someone who is loved, a daughter of God with divine qualities," she said. "When you have that foundation, you can reach as high as you want."
Nymeyer would know, she has reached some pretty high places.
Frank Busch, her swimming coach at the University of Arizona, said as far as he is concerned, no one has accomplished what Nymeyer has accomplished. She is one of only three women in the history of the PAC-10 conference to be named the NCAA woman of the year, he said. But Nymeyer impressed her coach with more than accolades.
"Pearl is the kind of individual that any coach would like to have on their squad," said Busch, who prefers to call Nymeyer by her middle name. "She is dedicated to her beliefs, values and standards. Those are the kind of athletes that coaches die for."
There are absolutely no swimming roots in the Nymeyer family tree. Lacey's father, Aaron, played football and basketball in high school. Going further back, her grandfather is in the Arizona basketball hall of fame.
But when a childhood playmate wanted to take swimming lessons, Nymeyer tagged along, thus triggering a chain of events that would eventually make her one of the best female swimmers in the world.
"She immediately fell in love with swimming," said Stacey Nymeyer, her mother. "We also discovered she is a big competitor and an individual sport athlete. When she played team sports, she became frustrated when teammates didn't put forth the same effort, so swimming was perfect for her."
Like a fish in the water, Nymeyer developed her talent by training for four or five hours a day, six days a week. It was a very demanding schedule for a young teenager, but she discovered balance by reading the Book of Mormon on a daily basis.
"She was a real list-maker, and the Book of Mormon was always at the top of her list," Stacey Nymeyer said. "I don't know how she realized that at such an early age, but it was a key to her success. It made her life and ability to live her standards easier. She needed strength from another source, and the gospel has always been that source for her."
While Lacey Nymeyer has always been a standout leader and teammate in her sport, she was also always the only Mormon.
She was never treated like an outcast, but her lifestyle often prompted questions. Party invitations were declined, although she had no choice but to swim on Sundays. Lacey Nymeyer did her best to live the gospel standards and developed many friendships. She was respected by her teammates, but a separation still existed.
"From high school to college to the national team to the Olympics, she had to stand alone on her morals and testimony," Stacey Nymeyer said.
Prior to the Beijing Olympics, the team endured six weeks of intense training at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. Lacey found the atmosphere amazingly stressful, and it was getting difficult to handle. She called her mom for help.
"I need to go to church," Lacey told her mother.
Phone calls and arrangements were made, and soon four sisters from the local singles ward arrived for a visit. The following week, parents visited the athletes, and the Nymeyer women attended church with their new friends.
"That Sunday all the athletes were out sunbathing, and we tiptoed through in church clothes. They wondered where we were going," Stacey said.
Lacey's mother later marveled at the irony of that experience.
"She didn't know one soul at the institute, but she felt a stronger connection with the people there than she did with all the athletes she had known and competed with for years," Stacey Nymeyer said.
Lacey Nymeyer was once asked at a fireside who was the most amazing person she met while at the Olympics.
Of course she had rubbed shoulders with meganames like Michael Phelps and LeBron James, but her answer was surprising.
"Tay Chin Joo — a sweet LDS lady in Singapore," she said.
Just before the Olympics, the team was at a training camp at a private country club in Singapore. Following a workout session, Lacey Nymeyer was drying off with a towel when she was informed there was someone who wanted to see her.
To her surprise, a member of the church had heard about the swimmer and wanted to meet her. Her teammates practically gawked as Lacey Nymeyer happily spoke with the woman.
"The team was looking at her and saying, 'Who do you know in Singapore?' " Stacey said.
"It was the instant Mormon connection," Lacey Nymeyer said. "We talked for 45 minutes."
The woman continued to visit during her stay, bringing gifts and treats. Lacey Nymeyer said becoming friends with that sweet lady was a treasured moment.
Engaged and moving on
Believe it or not, Lacey Nymeyer has accepted the marriage proposal of a Gila Monster — a member of the basketball team at Eastern Arizona College.
His name is Chandler John. The couple will be married at the LDS Temple in Mesa, Ariz., in April.
Lacey Nymeyer, a physical education major, is done with school and looking to take a break from swimming. During the week she works as a substitute teacher at a local private high school. On the weekends she travels around the country doing swim clinics and encouraging young children to work hard and pursue their dreams.
Will she compete in the 2012 London games? "I don't know. Right now I am focusing on other areas of life, but I want to keep the option open," Lacey Nymeyer said.
When invited, she enjoys speaking to youths and at firesides and preaches the importance of gaining a personal testimony and standing strong in the face of adversity. Allow the gospel to balance your life, she said.
"Why not build your life around something that is consistent and true?" Lacey Nymeyer said. "You have to have your own testimony to know what you want out of life. It will bring you happiness."
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