Before getting in the pool for practice on Thursday, Virginia swimmer Lauren Perdue spent about a half hour smiling and posing for pictures in front of an American flag.
She has a pretty good reason to smile these days.
Perdue, a rising senior with the Cavaliers, will represent the United States at the Olympic Games in London this summer. She'll be part of the US 4x200-meter freestyle relay team that competes on August 1.
"I have still not really gotten used to the fact that I'm going to be an Olympian," Perdue admitted on Thursday.
Perdue owns three of Virginia's school records in freestyle indvidual events. In three seasons she's won 17 ACC titles, and been a 12-time All-American.
But she was unable to compete at the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championship this past March because of a back injury.
"She's been through more than most athletes experience, in a very short period of time," Virginia coach Mark Bernardino said on Thursday.
Perdue had surgery on her back in early March, forcing her to miss the NCAA championship -- but creating the possibility that she'd be healthy enough to compete at the Olympic Trials.
"It wasn't so much we were making a decision for her to be an Olympian," Bernardino explained. "We were making a decision for her to be healthy."
"It's been very emotionally challenging," said Perdue. "And for a time I wasn't sure if I'd be able to make a comeback."
"I don't think the normal athlete would be able to bounce back this quickly," said Bernardino. "But I think she has an abnormal amount of talent."
Perdue put that talent on display last week in Omaha. Seeded 18th in the 200-meter freestyle, Perdue finished fourth in the event. That finish put her on the US 4x200 relay team.
"And once she got through the preliminary round, I completely believed she was going to make the Olympic team," Bernardino recalled. "And I told her so, right in the water."
"I kind of came up from behind, and I was an underdog," Perdue said. "So no one really expected me to perform the way I did."
Perdue now leaves this weekend for a week-long training camp in Tennessee. After that it's two weeks training in France, then on to London -- and the Olympic Games.
"I could not be more proud of my country, and of UVa," Perdue said. "And representing both of these amazing aspects of my life is, I'm so blessed."
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