MARQUETTE - It's no exaggeration to say swimming has significantly improved the life of Tiffany MacDowell of Rudyard High School.
The Bulldogs freshman swim team member has dealt with a myriad of physical challenges in her life. About four years ago, she and her family found swimming as the best way for her to get needed physical activity, and she joined the Rudyard Piranhas, a community-based youth swim team.
She's continued to develop as a swimmer and was a contributor on the Rudyard team that participated at the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Swimming and Diving Finals on Saturday.
This diminutive 15-year-old is a twin who was born premature by 15 weeks, or more than three months, spending that length of time after she was born as a patient at Marquette General Hospital.
"She had to have hip derotation surgery when she was 9 or 10 (years old)," said her mother, Melanie MacDowell, describing a condition where the femur, the large upper leg bone, had to be moved so it was correctly aligned with her pelvis.
That and several other conditions don't allow physical activity that jars the legs and hips, even something as simple as running.
"Swimming worked out perfectly for me," Tiffany MacDowell said, adding she also feels lucky because twin sister Taylor can't swim due to a chlorine allergy.
Because she doesn't have much elasticity in her legs, she's had to make adjustments while swimming the breaststroke and butterfly.
In both strokes, bowing the legs apart is part of the normal kick, but MacDowell has to do most of that only with her ankles and feet.
"Tiffany was very quiet and reserved, but I think her success at swimming has started bringing her out more," Melanie MacDowell said.
"I love to swim, and I love to sing," Tiffany MacDowell said, explaining that she participates in country music karaoke whenever she has the chance.
While she didn't have a top finish, MacDowell didn't fare too badly Saturday compared to a lot of other freshman. She was on Rudyard's ninth-place 200-yard medley relay team, swimming the butterfly, and came in 16th in the 200 individual medley, where all four swim strokes are used, along with 23rd in the 100 freestyle.
"Considering everything she's been through, I'm so proud of what she's accomplished," Melanie MacDowell said.
Hers wasn't the only interesting story at the finals.
Junior Ricky Peterson of the Ishpeming-Negaunee co-op team jumped from fifth place a year ago to champion in the boys 100 backstroke, beating out the competition by more than a second. He added a sixth-place finish in the 200 free.
He's hoping to join a summer swim club team, possibly far from home since he has relatives that live all over the U.S.
"I don't know if it would ever happen, but it would be great to swim for the University of Michigan," he said as he's already planning to attend the school in Ann Arbor.
He shouldn't have too much problem meeting its academic standards, since he's a straight-A student with a 4.0 grade-point-average at Negaunee.
"I'm into the theater, I like to sing and act and dance," he said, adding that he's participated in both school and community plays, including several productions this school year.
One swimmer integrated into her school through the sport. Logan Vear was home-schooled until this year. Now the 14-year-old is a sophomore at Marquette Senior High School.
"Most of the people on the team I got to know through Y(MCA) swimming," she said about several years with the Marquette Killer Whales.
Her older siblings, Kinsey and Wesley, are past record holders with the MSHS swim teams.
The biggest change moving to a public school?
"It's a lot more time, being in school all day, but there's also more variety in the kinds of subjects I can take now," Vear said.
Near the end of the meet, she joined teammates Lani Belton, Gwen Hoenke and Janelle Carroll in upsetting Houghton to win the 200 free relay.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is email@example.com.