"They have believed in me even more than I believed in myself.”
Competitive swimming is often viewed as a solitary, grueling sport. Long hours in a cold pool for early morning workouts with the scent of chlorine pervading hair, clothes, and skin the rest of the day, and the repetitive nature of swimming lap after lap after lap hardly seems like fun. There's no stick, no ball, and no sudden death game winning goal to the delight of cheering crowds, just a continuing drive for lower times, a faster pace, and subtle improvements in technique and endurance. However, for CYOS recipient Lauren McCandless, distance swimming is an ideal match. "I LOVE working hard; I love the practice mentality and seeing how hard I can push myself. With that I am pushing the people around me. It's a whole team dynamic," she states with a calm intensity and fire in her eyes. Lauren is a second-year captain and multiple record-holder on the UNH Women's Swimming & Diving Team.
Lauren has racked up a long list of athletic achievements in her four-year UNH swimming career. She is the all-time UNH record holder in the 500 yard freestyle, and the 1650 (1,650 yards) which is indoor swimming’s longest race. She also holds the America East Conference record in the 1650. While these records are impressive by themselves, Lauren also holds the UNH pool mark in the 200 yard butterfly, a race which requires a challenging mixture of speed, power, and technique in order to excel. Lauren was nominated for CYOS by highly successful UNH Swimming Head Coach Josh Willman.
Lauren grew up in the rural town of Macungie in eastern Pennsylvania. "My hometown is tiny, but my high school was huge," she explains. "I had 633 students in my graduating class." Lauren is the youngest of three sisters and got her swimming start at age three. One older sister played softball, but switched to swimming at a young age. At that point their Mom told them “I'm only driving the three of you to one place!” Throughout her youth and adolescent years Lauren competed for the Emmaus Aquatic Club and her high school team. She shares that, "Swimming is something that I grew to love. My sister is two years older and we ended up swimming the same events as teenagers. We became the best of friends and competitors at the same time."
Lauren is also the quintessential scholar-athlete. She will graduate magna cum laude in May 2014 with a B.S. in Biochemistry, Molecular and Cellular Biology, succeeding in courses called Eukaryotic Cell & Developmental Biology and Protein Structure & Function. She has garnered numerous school and America East Conference accolades for the integration of her swimming success and academic performance, including the 2012 Conference Scholar-Athlete for Swimming. When asked about the source of her competitive drive and obvious desire to excel, Lauren claims that, "My parents were always big on pushing me to take AP courses, honors courses. It drove me nuts in high school, but now I'm very thankful."
A natural involvement for Lauren has been with the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), a highly active liaison organization between UNH athletic administration and undergraduate athletes. "It's a pretty cool experience that brings athletes together," states Lauren, a frequent participant in the many community service activities organized by SAAC. She has also been a member of the UNH Athletic Advisory Committee, focusing on improving academic success in intercollegiate athletes, and Leadership Development Programs through UNH Athletics. All of these activities dovetail well with Lauren's recent stints as a swim coach with swim clubs in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.
Two key goals define Lauren's immediate and long term future plans. With two separate conference championships this spring, she hopes to perform well enough to qualify for the fiercely competitive NCAA Swimming Championships in Minneapolis and to score enough points to lead UNH to another America East or ECAC title. After graduating this May, she is looking to return home to her extended family in Pennsylvania. Lauren shares that, "My uncle was born with a hole in his heart. Right before I started at UNH he passed away and had three young daughters, my cousins. I want to watch them grow up and be a role model for them." She'll also be looking to gain more experience in health care and medical research with an eye towards medical school. "My grandmother and great grandmother died from breast cancer," Lauren states. "Plus, I LOVE working with kids, so my goal is to eventually pursue pediatric oncology. I've always been interested in going into medicine. I've always wanted to make a difference."
When asked to reflect on her overall UNH experience, Lauren responds with, "I could not have made a better decision. The academics have pushed me, and faculty has been very understanding and fantastic teachers. And, I can't even describe how spectacular the swim coaches (Josh Willman and Jarrod Zwirko) have been. It is incredible how they can see the potential in someone and pull that out of them. I truly appreciate every opportunity this team and UNH has given me."
2013 - 2014 CYOS Honorees: seated Zak Ahmad-Kahloon, Emily Dickman, Nyomi Guzman, Annie Crossman, standing Lauren McCandless, Kathryn Sattora, Timothy Marquis, Sid Nigam, Evan Beals, Peter Wilkinson