COVINGTON, Ga. — Bethany Larson loves her teammates and the camaraderie she gets with them with time spent in the pool.
But it’s when her fellow Eastside swimmers have vacated the water when she’s feeling most at home. That has nothing to do with a lack of desire to be around or compete against her squad, but it has everything to do with her having the chance to face her toughest competition — herself.
“Bethany will wait until her lane clears out and she’ll use those extra five to 15 minutes to work on her starts or on her turns,” said Eastside assistant coach Tom Hanson. “Bethany’s work ethic at practice is like no one else’s. She’s typically the first in the pool and is always the last one out.”
Hanson has been coaching high school swimmers for almost 10 years now — more than half of that time has been spent helping build a solid program at Eastside. And as far as competitors go, Hanson says she’s among the most fierce he’s ever tutored.
“While training for the individual medley, we were working with Bethany on her backstroke to breaststroke turn,” Hanson said. “She wasn’t satisfied with the speed of it, and when she got home, she got on the internet to find a way to get faster. She found the advanced suicide turn and began working on it before and after practice. This just shows her dedication to the sport.”
It’s a dedication and tenacity that might elude you if you’re looking to find it on her face or hear it in her voice. When talking about her exploits in the pool during her first two years in high school, Larson does it with a shy smile and light tone in her voice — not exactly what you might expect from an aggressive athlete.
But even Larson will tell you not to let her gentile demeanor fool you. She’s always been a competitor. Her older brother probably knows better than most.
“I just started swimming, and it became something that really helped me see I could be good at something,” Larson said. “I have an older brother, and in the other sports we played, he’d always be better than me, and that’s when I discovered I had that competitive side. And when I started swimming, I knew that was something I could be better than him at.”
Now she’s got higher aspirations than simply winning the sibling championship. Now that Larson’s become competitive in the sport, she’s found professionals and Olympians like Katie Lidecki to lock into and glean from from afar.
“She’s always breaking records,” Larson said. “She’s always pushing herself and trying to get better, and that’s something I want to see myself do.”
And she wants to do it on the highest level, too. Her favorite events are the 100 butterfly and the 200 and 500 free, but she admittedly loathes the 200 IM.
“I was never good at breaststroke,” she said. “My kick is always off, so it always throws me way back.”
She didn’t need to be excellent in the breaststroke in order to pull off what she calls her greatest accomplishment of the season.
“Definitely it was beating Billy Allen in points, because he was the best person on the team this year,” she said. “So being able to be up with him this year, being neck and neck with him was really great.”
Yet Larson is begrudgingly intent on shoring up here weaker spots, because she has greater aspirations in her view. She says she wants to qualify for state at least once in her remaining two years in high school, and with that individual success, she’d love to see the swim program rise collectively to higher heights.
But she’s not bashful about acknowledge that she wants more than just what she can accomplish at the high school level.
“I really like watching the Summer Olympics, because you see a lot of the world records being broken, and that’s kind of something I want to do when I get older,” she said. “So just watching that helps me believe I can do it too.”
So does Hanson.
“She’s only limited by what’s in her mind,” Larson said. “I could see her swimming collegiately, and if she has the ability to put the time in the pool, she can go on up. She can go well above collegiate level. “