native Christine Magnuson is embarking next week on a life-changing experience—for the second time.
The 26-year-old medalist will be vying for a spot on the 2012 Summer Olympic U.S. swimming team. Time trials start in Omaha, NE, on Monday, June 25, where her family and friends will be looking on from the stands at the Century Link Center, commonly referred to as the Qwest Center.
"It's kind of one of those weird things," said Magnuson, who earned two silver medals in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China—one in the 100-meter butterfly and one in the four-by-100 meter medley. "I'm sure I'll be a little bit nervous when I get there. Obviously, you hope for the best."
The longtime swimmer—a graduate of and later, the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga—said she's only going to continue her professional swimming career if she qualifies for the next Olympic team.
"The mental preparation is just a important as the physical," she said. "I've enjoyed swimming my entire career and if the Olympic trial is going to be last meet, I want to enjoy it with my friends. … I've done everything I can to put myself in the game. That's really all you can do."
For the past several months, Magnuson has been training at the University of Arizona in Tuscon, where she's also working to earn a two-year graduate degree. Her team consists of swimmers ranging in age from 18 to 33, she said, and includes 23 "post grads" and about 40 college students.
The post-graduate group is a mix of foreigners and U.S. competitors, 13 of whom are swimming in the time trials beginning on Monday. In all, the U.S. team will have about 30 swimmers facing off in the eight-day meet, Magnuson said.
"Right now, most of my day is either preparing for swimming or recovering from swimming," she said in May of her 25-hour-per week training schedule. "It's a pretty cool job to be virtually paid to work out."
Magnuson's official workout taper began about four weeks ago, though. Her training is power oriented, she said, so after an intense regimen, she and her teammates fully rest for about two to three weeks leading up to a big competition—in this case, Olympic trials.
"That's just how it's done on the U.S. team," she said. "It's so competitive that everyone fully rests for it; even Michael Phelps. If you make the team you have about a month to come back up in training and then go down again."
Magnuson is looking forward to soon having her parents, Bill, 59, and Geri, 56, along with her sister, Jackie, 29, rooting for her in the Omaha stands.
Geri, who works at the same junior high in Flossmoor as her husband, said on Wednesday that no matter what happens, she wants to be there to support her Christine.
"This is the second time around for us so it's a little bit different," she said, noting that she and the family, along with several friends, will head to Nebraska on Saturday. "We've already had the whole experience. It doesn't make it any easier. We kind of know what we're in for. Last time, we were clueless. Maybe that was better."
Christine didn't exactly expect to make the Olympic team her first time around, she said, and her family wasn't ready for it either.
"My parents weren't financially prepared for Beijing," she said, adding that her mother was interviewed on daytime television and asked by the host if she was excited to go to China. "She told her, 'Well, we can't exactly afford that right now.'"
That's when the checks started rolling in—some from all over the area but many from longtime Tinley Park residents who were proud to see their hometown girl achieving her dream. They ranged from $5 to several hundred, Christine said. Almost every one came with a note to the Magnusons saying "You have to go," Christine said.
"The people in the Chicago area, and particularly Tinley Park, allowed me to have one of my favorite Olympic memories which was after winning, looking up to see my parents and sister in the crowd," she said.
Her family is just as supportive now as they've always been, they said. This time, they're prepared for the possibility of packing bags to head to London.
"We just want to be there to support her," Geri said. "Whatever happens is fine."
She isn't the only one beaming with pride. Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki described Christine as a precious local gem.
"She's our little treasure. She truly is," he said, expounding on the parade the village held for her when she returned from China in 2008. "She's a fantastic role model and we wish her the best. We're all following her very closely, our special Christine."
Christine said that about 2,000 swimmers are expected to compete in Omaha, creating long, arduous days and sometimes leaving little time for recovery. She'll be participating in time trials when the kick off on Monday.
She'll start with two days of the 100-meter butterfly followed by two days of rest. Then, she'll compete for two days of 100-meter freestyle races followed by two days of 50-meter freestyle races. Everything will be televised on NBC.
The Omaha center has been busily preparing for the event. They built two 50-meter pools on top of the facility's basketball court exclusively for the trials, the Magnusons said.
"They put on quite a show," Christine said. "There are fireworks on the pool deck and there's a well of water that can spell out people's names and create pictures … "
Geri's not sure if this experience can ever "capture the first time." But, it's worth a shot.
"We're just trying to approach it as this is a great thing that's happening and we want to go out there and support her and have a fun time," she said. "There's a lot of excitement, of course. I just want her to know how much we love her and that she's a great kid. We're excited to be representing Tinley Park."