Rachel Dawson may not be one of the Watterson High School girls swimming and diving team's top performers, but the senior co-captain is perhaps the Eagles' most respected and inspiring leader.
That's because Dawson has worked hard to become a solid distance swimmer despite having a pacemaker that sometimes makes it painful to swim.
"I've always looked up to Rachel as a person and an athlete because she works so hard and she brings such a positive attitude to the team," said senior co-captain Madeline Grubbe, a University of Toledo recruit. "Sometimes her pacemaker holds her back a little bit during practice, but she never gives up and the coaches have to drag her out of the water to make her take a break.
"Rachel is the most outgoing person on our team and she brings so much energy to our group. Even though she isn't the person out front leading the workouts, she definitely helps push our team as a whole because everyone sees how hard she works and it gives all of us a big mental boost."
Dawson had her pacemaker implanted when she was 9, four years after a routine checkup revealed that her heart rate was low for her age and she was diagnosed with having complete heart blockage.
The pacemaker detects when she has an overly-long pause between heartbeats and, through electrical impulses, stimulates her heart to beat at a fixed rate of at least 60 beats per minute. Before having the pacemaker, her heart rate occasionally dropped to as low as 30 per minute.
A drawback to having the pacemaker is that she was forced to quit competing in contact sports such as soccer and basketball because getting hit in the chest could damage the device and lead to further surgery.
Dawson began competing for the Worthington Swim Club less than a year after receiving her pacemaker and has competed for Watterson's cross country, swimming and track and field teams since her freshman year.
"A couple of doctors have told me I'm in too-active sports for having a pacemaker, but I never wanted to quit something I enjoy just because I have one," she said. "I don't have a lot of natural talent for swimming and, as the years have moved on, I've had more difficulty with my pacemaker. But the great thing about swimming is, if you work real hard at it, you can improve."
Dawson has had a couple of health complications involving her pacemaker. Six years ago, it slid out of its protective pocket and pushed against a rib, causing her pain and leading to surgery to move the device back into its proper position.
Then in September 2012, her cross country season came to a premature end when she had to have surgery to replace her pacemaker and remove painful scar tissue. While the surgery has reduced the level of pain she feels while running and swimming, she said the motion of swimming still occasionally agitates the scar tissue that surrounds her new pacemaker.
"I don't like to sit out any part of practice, so I try to push through the pain. But when it gets too bad, I have to be smart about it," Dawson said. "When it's sharp, it kind of feels like a shock, and then there's constant pain, like having a migraine headache in my chest."
After competing in the freestyle sprint events for junior varsity as a freshman and sophomore, Dawson began competing in the 500 free, 200 free and 100 butterfly last season and earned her first varsity letter.
She was voted a team captain by her peers shortly before the start of this season.
"Rachel's definitely our hardest worker," coach Megan Downing said. "Not everyone likes the 500 free because it's a tough race to train for and to swim, but Rachel loves it and she thrives at it. She's become our go-to distance swimmer because she's always up for the challenge."
Dawson is hoping to break her personal-best time of 6 minutes, 47 seconds in the 500 free this season, but helping the Eagles win their eighth consecutive CCL championship is her top priority.
"I really want to beat my times from last year, but having our team end its season on a positive note is what's most important," she said.
While her swimming career will come to an end after this season, Dawson, who plans on studying medicine at Ohio State, intends to stay involved with the sport by continuing to help coach a Special Olympics team during the summer.
"I can't even describe how much I love coaching Special Olympics," she said. "They practice harder than anyone and it's awesome to see their faces when they receive their medals at the end of meets.
"I really enjoy helping other people and it's really opened my eyes and made me realize how blessed I am to have the life I have."
Boys basketball team's winning streak snapped
The boys basketball team had its program-record winning streak end at 31 games with a 56-43 loss to host Middletown on Jan. 11.
Matt Hughes had 14 points to lead the defending Division II state champion Eagles, who hadn't lost since Jan. 5, 2013.
Watterson, which was 8-1 overall before playing Columbus Academy on Jan. 14, beat DeSales 54-49 on Jan. 10 at Otterbein University to improve to 3-0 in the CCL. Andy Grieser had 20 points and Hughes scored 12.
Guza twins, Haley lead wrestling team
The wrestling team scored 69.5 points in the 16-team Licking Heights Invitational held Jan. 10 and 11 to tie Marion-Franklin for 11th behind champion Westerville North (304.5).
Mark Guza (126 pounds) and Jack Haley (182) each went 3-1 and placed second, and Michael Guza (132) went 4-1 and placed third.