Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Plano swimmers inspired to serve country: Trio heading to state meet, different military academies
PLANO — In late June, Ashley Ezell will be a swab, undergoing the seven weeks of struggle designed to prepare her for the life of a Coast Guard Academy student.
It will entail waking up to calisthenics around dawn, followed by more than three hours of physical training before lunch and about five hours more before the evening.
There is no phone, no email. The letter is the only way to communicate.
As Ezell looks ahead, she acknowledges that two of those letters will likely be sent to fellow Plano swimmers Melissa Leonhardt and Shannon Rogers.
They’ll relate to her words. They’ll be communicating by letter as well, enduring grueling training camps of their own. Leonhardt plans to attend Air Force and Rogers will be at West Point.
“I’m just in awe,” Plano swimming and diving coach Philip Wiggins said. “We’ve had several people in academies before. For one girl to go, it’s great. For all three, it’s unbelievable really.”
They were only in first grade, that time when memories, even those of the most important events, tend to surface in a haze. But they all remember 9/11.
Leonhardt thinks about the fear, desiring to do something to eradicate it. Rogers acquired a sense of purpose.
For Ezell, it was more personal. Her uncle was scheduled to fly on the plane that hit the first tower. He missed the flight by 10 minutes.
“Every day I’m thankful that he wasn’t there,” Ezell said. “I always have this sense of I need to protect someone.”
Those feelings lasted for all of them, maturing as they did. Rogers’ father discussed his years at West Point all the time, and she listened to a CD that featured famous American speeches from Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and others. Leonhardt watched as her older brother, Paul, went to Air Force.
By last summer, as Rogers, Leonhardt and Ezell made official visits to military academies and other schools, they knew for sure that they craved something beyond the average student’s life, choosing to commit to four years of structure, order and traditions. Everything about their future teammates jelled with their thoughts.
“They know that they are fighting for a cause and that it is really important to them,” Rogers said.
In addition to those duties, they will all swim. Captaining Plano’s team this season, Ezell (medley and 400-freestyle relays) Leonhardt (200 individual medley, 100 backstroke, both relays) and Rogers (100 butterfly, 500 freestyle, both relays) have qualified for the state meet in Austin.
Since they started swimming as freshmen, the three have been close. Leonhardt helps Rogers with shopping. All three have watched marathon DVD sessions of Grey’s Anatomy, Harry Potter and Twilight together.
They do this in the little free time that they have. Their days are already packed with two swimming practices and school, a schedule they hope will prepare them for what’s to come the next four years and beyond.
Ezell wants to study drug interdiction at the Coast Guard Academy, desiring to work on the borders to block drug smugglers.
Leonhardt is not quite sure of her plans, but she is considering something with flying or astronomical or nuclear engineering.
Rogers would like to pursue a career in military intelligence.
As the time until their commitment draws nearer, each wants to spend more time with her family, but excitement dominates most of their emotions.
Indeed, only one aspect of their new lives makes them anxious. During the weeks of the summer training, they’ll get precious little time in the pool.
UIL State Swimming and Diving Meet
Date: Friday and SaturdaySite: Jamail Texas Swim Center, Austin
Notable: Last season, the Southlake Carroll boys team became the first area school to win a 5A state championship . The Carroll girls finished second. … The Frisco girls unseated 10-time defending state champion Highland Park in the Class 4A competition.