When Katelyn Lawson arrived for her freshman year on the University of Nevada women’s swim team, the former Barron Collier High and Estero High standout already knew one adjustment she’d have to make in her new environment.
The scenery isn’t the only breath-taking aspect about Reno; so is its altitude.
Being 5,000 feet above sea level might not be a big deal for swimmers from mountainous states out west, but for someone who hails from the pancake terrain of Southwest Florida, there was a necessary period of physical acclimation due to the altitude.
“I came out here knowing I wasn’t going to be in as good as shape,” said Lawson, a Naples resident who swam for three years at Barron Collier before finishing her high school career at Estero. “It’s tough to train. It feels like you’re really winded. I got used to it after a few weeks.” Indeed, a solid freshman season concluded in late February when Lawson earned points for the Wolf Pack in two events at the Western Athletic Conference Championships in San Antonio, Texas.
Lawson finished 12th in the 500-yard freestyle and was fifth among freshmen in the event.
In the 1,650-yard freestyle, Lawson finished 15th and had the third fastest time among freshmen.
“I wish I had done a little better, but I’m glad I did as well placing-wise,” she said. “I was happy I lettered for my school.”
Overall, Nevada finished fifth in a meet that was won by San Jose State.
Among other highlights from Lawson’s rookie year were several top five finishes during the regular season, including in separate meets against Pacific, Fresno State and Seattle.
“It went pretty well,” Lawson said in regard to her first year.
As the only east coast girl on a team filled with swimmers from the Pacific Time Zone and other countries, Lawson was simply known as “Florida” early in the season. She said one of the more enjoyable aspects in her first year has been meeting teammates and other athletes and students from throughout the United States and other countries.
Nevada’s scenery will change next season when the swim team joins the Mountain West Conference, whose line-up includes Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, Texas Christian University, University of Nevada-Las Vegas and Wyoming.
Lawson is in the midst of offseason training which includes a 50/50 split between weight training and swimming. She plans to train with her club team in Naples — Swim Florida — during the summer.
It took some time for Lawson to warm up to Reno’s frigid winter and snow.
“It was so cold compared to back home. It was cold all season,” she said.
But Lawson, who briefly swam for fun in a chilly Lake Tahoe, wants to make the most out of her experience while in the shadows of the Sierra Nevada. She plans to learn how to ski and snowboard.
Lawson is majoring in community health science and minoring in business. Since she earned credits at Florida Gulf Coast University while in high school, she’ll be able to finish her undergraduate studies at Nevada a year early. She eventually plans to return to Florida — and its warmth — to pursue a career in nursing.
“When I graduate, I think I’ll head back to Florida. Naples is one of the best places in the world,” she said. “I miss it so much.”