Gracie Finnegan was at a swimming meet when she was 12 years old. She watched the events take place and being competitive by nature, she thought to herself, "I should be out there and I believe I can swim as fast as the swimmers I'm watching."

Gracie Finnegan was at a swimming meet when she was 12 years old. She watched the events take place and being competitive by nature, she thought to herself, "I should be out there and I believe I can swim as fast as the swimmers I'm watching."

Six years later, the Watterson senior honor student is a four-time state champion, an eight time All-American, holds eight Watterson records and was a 2008 Olympic Trials qualifier.

She was right, she should have been out there.

"I really love competing in the pool and I have developed a very good work ethic early on, which has helped me a lot," said Finnegan, a two-time state champion in both the 50-yard freestyle and 100 freestyle. "When I go after a goal, I put everything I have into it and my size and my swimming technique also are a big plus."

Speed is important, but so is an appreciation for the fundamentals. That is why Finnegan pays very close attention to her stroke in the pool in order to perfect it.

"I take practice time very seriously and like to be challenged, especially by the guy swimmers who I know can beat me, but make me a stronger competitor," Finnegan said. "Even though I spend around 31/2 hours a day working on my sport and even though it really tires me out some times, I look at what I have accomplished and understand that it could have only come through time and effort."

For all of her successes, Finnegan says the inner confidence side of being an athlete is still something she needs to improve.

"I understand that you can overcome nervousness through hard work, but I am always watching out for the next great swimmer and at times earlier in my career, I was pretty much a wreck and a disaster, confidence-wise," Finnegan said. "My coach, Quintin Ward, has taught me that there is a vast difference between swimming to win and swimming fast because you are scared of losing.

"As I have matured, I believe I am learning to step up on the blocks as I get ready to race and removing everything from my mind except using the fundamental skills that I have developed."

Headed to the University of Arizona next year, Finnegan says swimming has done lots to develop into the outstanding young student-athlete she is.

"My sport has given me some notoriety around my friends at school and I think that helps you develop," Finnegan said. "When your classmates and peers recognize your achievements and follow your results, there is a proud feeling inside of you and it is a feeling that you need at this age level. Swimming has, without a doubt, made me understand that all the hard work you do can be worth it."

It is a golden era for girls swimmers in central Ohio with Kate McNeilis of Dublin Scioto, Krystyn Fulcher of Upper Arlington, Claudia Doyle of Thomas Worthington and Margo Geer of Fairbanks joining Finnegan as athletes to see in the pool this winter.

Take time to watch these extraordinary swimmers compete.

I'll see you at a meet.

Larry Larson is a former athletics director at Grandview High School. He can be heard as "Mr. High School Sports" on WTVN 610 AM.

Watterson senior Gracie Finnegan is a four-time state swimming champion. She also qualified for the 2008 Olympic Trials.