By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Swimming phenomena Lia Neal, 17, has qualified for the United States Olympic swim trials — again.
In 2008, Neal was called “one to watch” as she broke decades-old records to qualify for the Olympic trials at the tender age of 13, one of the youngest girls ever to qualify. In 2008 she swam against competitors as much as three times her age.
Now 17, Neal is one of five members of the AGUA (Asphalt Green Unified Aquatics) swimming team heading to Omaha on June 25, all coached under AGUA Head Coach Rachel Stratton-Mills.
Neal, who lives in Downtown Brooklyn and attends Convent of the Sacred Heart school in Manhattan, has been swimming competitively on AGUA since she was eight years old. She is ranked fifth in the country in the 200-meter Women’s Freestyle and sixth in the 100-meter Women’s Freestyle.
“I am nervous, but also very excited for my second Olympic trials,” Neal told the Brooklyn Eagle. “I am glad that I was able to compete at trials in 2008. I know what to look forward to for this year’s trials.”
She said she couldn’t have done it on her own. “My friends, family and coaches have all helped me with different aspects of my swimming over the years. My mom has committed so much by driving me to early morning practices and watching every competition for so many years. My dad helps me with the mental challenges I encounter at this level of the sport. They are both, along with the rest of my family, always loving and supportive of me no matter what.”
They’re all “excited to watch me compete in Omaha,” she added.
“Lia is a fun-loving, kind young lady,” said Coach Stratton-Mills. “I have been working with her for the past two years and have watched her mature and grow as an athlete.
“Preparing Lia for this year’s trials is very exciting, as she has so much potential in this sport,” she added. “She is just breaking into the highest levels of the sport and because of her young age, this is only the beginning for her.”
Nearly 2,000 swimmers will be competing to make the U.S. Olympic Swim Team in Omaha. AGUA swimmers will also be racing for a place on the National Youth Team that will travel to Hawaii this summer. Other AGUA members to qualify for the trials include Michael Domagala, En-Wei Hu-Van Wright, Isla Hutchinson-Maddox and Griffin Schumacher.
“It helps keep up the excitement of the whole group because everybody is fast enough that they have a strong chance to make the Olympic Team or the Youth National Team,” Stratton-Mills said.
Three of the five AGUA swimmers going to the Olympic trials — Lia Neal, Michael Domagala, and En-Wei Hu-Van Wright — received Swim for the Future scholarships at Asphalt Green.
Asphalt Green Executive Director Carol Tweedy said she was proud of all the swimmers. “Having five of our swimmers qualify for the Olympic Trials is surely a testament to the quality of our program and the caliber of talent it attracts.”
A send-off ceremony for the swimmers will be held at Asphalt green on Friday.