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High schoolers with Longhorn Aquatics to compete at Olympic Trials

High schoolers with Longhorn Aquatics to compete at Olympic Trials

AUSTIN (KXAN) — At least three Central Texas high schoolers who all train at the club Longhorn Aquatics have qualified for Swimming Olympic trials this weekend.

Rowan Cox, 16, Julian Cox, 18, and Andrew Zou, 17, will be representing their team.

The young athletes practice every day during the week, before the sun comes up, and before they go to school.

A legacy swim club

On the University of Texas at Austin campus, Longhorn Aquatics has been around for nearly 90 years and has grown in prestige. Athletes from all over the Austin area train there.

Head swim coach Michael Laitala has led the program since 2012. Since then, Laitala said the program has had at least one athlete qualify for the Swimming Olympic Trials each quadrennium.

“We’re swimming anywhere between five to sometimes 8-9,000 yards a day, in one practice,” Jillian Cox said.

The top competitive swimmers in the program, grades 9-12, train in a state-of-the-art pool where swimming icons like Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky have broken records.

That could perhaps be the inspiration and motivation helping partly fuel the athletes heading to trials to stay focused.

“You got to go every single day… if you want to be the best,” Rowan Cox said.

Their stories on the journey to Paris

Each athlete’s unique story speaks to why qualifying to compete at Olympic Trials is so special. For Jillian Cox, it was a life-changing injury.

“In 2020, I broke both of my feet jumping into a pool,” she said. “I was in a wheelchair for two months. I was like, ‘I don’t know if this is what I want.'”

She gets emotional talking about having a shot to make her Olympic dreams come true because of what she went through, not long ago.

Zou said he’s had to manage uncertainty. He lost his original Olympic Trials spot, which was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Three years ago, I actually had trials already, but they made the cuts faster after the Tokyo Olympics. So, I lost it and then I had to regain it again later,” Zou said.

Rowan Cox, just this season, has had to overcome personal struggles.

“I got disqualified in the 100m butterfly this year at one of our high school meets,” Rowan Cox said. “And it messed me up pretty bad.”

‘Gold Medal standards’

Zou, Rowan Cox and Jillian Cox are leaders in their club known for producing high-level swimmers from all over Central Texas.

“Once you’re in here, and I think you start to feel it, and then it really starts to impact how much you want to want to go for it,” Laitala said.

Laitala, a UT Swimming alum himself, has poured a lot into the program and is hoping it continues to grow.

“This group has proven that the successes have just come by getting themselves out into those opportunities, and learning from them,” he said. “We’ve got gold medal standards.”

There’s a cycle of athletes who come through the program who go on to compete at the collegiate level as well. Zou has committed to Princeton, and Jillian Cox has committed to UT Austin.

Swimming trials are June 15-23 in Indianapolis.

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