Playing their way through college. Selfless swimmer does two `jobs'

CINDY JOHNSON is a ``selfless kind of swimmer,'' in the words of coach Janet Swanson here at Northeastern University. The elected captain of this year's Huskies swim team was always willing to put the team ahead of her own preferences, says Ms. Swanson. For instance, if asked, Cindy would swim an event that she didn't like and that maybe wasn't a particularly strong one for her.

Johnson leads by example in other ways, too. She broke her hand in last year's division championships when she hit the wall making a turn during the 400-yard individual medley. She continued to compete, finishing her scheduled events, the 1,650- and 200-yard freestyle.

Perhaps such performance is not surprising from someone who has been swimming competitively for 18 years, since she was four years old. ``It's a job,'' said Johnson the other day as she talked about her Northeastern swimming scholarship. Like many dedicated athletes, she seldom pursues her sport just for fun anymore.

Johnson told of growing up on the move in a military family, stationed mostly in the South, where the outdoor swimming season lasted six months. By the time her family moved to Massachusetts a decade ago, she was already a veteran swimmer used to putting in many hours of practice.

Swimming for Northeastern in the New England Women's Intercollegiate Swimming and Diving Conference was much less work and practice, but she still spent 2 hours a day swimming during the season, traveled to meets, and worked out by running and lifting weights.

She had been planning to apply to Northeastern because it was her father's alma mater, and once the coach found out she was interested in joining the team, the school made her an attractive offer.

Cindy receives a full scholarship worth about $12,000 a year. It pays all of her tuition and fees, as well as room and board. About 90 percent of her teammates are on at least a partial scholarship.

Under Northeastern's Cooperative Education program, students alternate semesters between the classroom and outside jobs. The latter rarely conflicted with her swimming schedule, however, so Johnson was able to hold a public relations position and also fulfill the athletic responsibility of her scholarship swimming ``job.''

Johnson's scholarship continues for the full five years of the cooperative program, but her eligibility to swim ended with this, her fourth season. Thus she won't be able to compete next year, when she expects to complete a communications degree. But she could compete in another sport, and is considering track and field.

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