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Strokes of Genius

Oct. 29, 2007
Oct. 29, 2007

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Oct. 29, 2007

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Strokes of Genius

A Connecticut pool powerhouse hasn't lost in 21 years

NO CURRENT member of the Cheshire (Conn.) High girls' swimming and diving team was born when the Rams last lost a dual meet, 21 years and a record 237 opponents ago, and it's been nearly that long since anyone came close to beating them. But ask this year's co-captains—seniors Jessie Bauer, Danielle Forrest, Amy Hudak (above, with T-shirt) and Mikki Morr—about Cheshire's most recent close meet, and they'll outshout each other in an attempt to provide the historical details: "Nineteen ninety-one!" "Lauralton Hall!" "Emily Struck!"

This is an article from the Oct. 29, 2007 issue

The program's glorious history is never far from the minds of the Cheshire girls, who on Oct. 15 broke the national record of 234 consecutive wins set by Elkhart (Ind.) Central High from 1980 to '94. (The Rams extended their streak to 237 last Friday.) Cheshire, which currently has 1,600 students, has been so dominant for so long that even near losses—like All-America Struck's courageous come-from-behind victory on the last lap of a relay in 1991—have become rallying moments. "When you're a little girl in Cheshire [pop. 28,833], you look up to all the great swimmers that have gone through the program," says Forrest, 17. "It becomes your dream to be on the Cheshire High swim team. These girls were our inspiration, so we know all the stories."

Cheshire's generation-binding tradition—five mother-daughter pairs have swum for the school—has been fostered by coach Ed Aston, a former swimming captain at Southern Connecticut State who started the town's youth programs in 1970 and the high school team in '73. Of the 278 swimmers who have contributed to the streak, 60 went on to Division I programs and more than 100 became captains of their college teams. Last week more than 60 alums returned to Cheshire for the record-breaking meet.

The 61-year-old Aston's program is built on a rigorous practice schedule. The girls are in the pool every weekday from 2:30 until 4:45—even if there's a meet that night. To keep his athletes from growing complacent, Aston, a semiretired guidance counselor, leaves a sheet of practice goals at the end of each lane of the pool and sometimes adds an inspirational quote. (One example is, "You can't move ahead if you never step forward.") He's also famous for his motivational speeches before meets. "Nothing great ever happens without enthusiasm," says Aston. "You can motivate them and get them thinking they're better than they are."

The record has been a welcome bit of good news in Cheshire, a rural town 15 miles north of New Haven that was rocked in July by the murder of a prominent physician's wife and two daughters by two burglars. Aston had his swimmers attend the memorial service as a team. "I wanted them to feel the emotions and not take life for granted and not take Cheshire swimming for granted," he says. The message got through. Says Morr, 17, "It taught us to be supportive of our town, the people who have supported us for so long."

The one black mark on the Rams' long run is that Cheshire didn't win the Class LL state title in 2005 or '06, the first years it hasn't won its classification since the dual-meet streak began in 1986. Is that the first sign of the end of an era? Morr doesn't think so. Cheshire's dominance will continue, she says, "as long as Ed's here and there are girls willing to work."

Monkey Business

EVER SINCE he was auctioned to breeding-industry giant Coolmore Stud for a world-record $16 million in February 2006, the question has followed The Green Monkey: Was the modestly bred but impressive-in-workouts colt worth the money? Two starts into a much-anticipated career that was delayed by injuries, we have an answer: No. On Oct. 13 the 3-year-old, running as the even-money favorite, finished a dull fourth, eight lengths back, in a seven-furlong maiden race at Belmont Park. It was a massive step backward for the Monkey, who ran gamely at Belmont and finished third in a six-horse field in his debut last month.

Last week the Belmont crowd jeered the horse with chants of "The Green Donkey," and trainer Todd Pletcher must now decide what to do. The colt has shown only average speed and no aptitude for longer distances. A move to turf racing is possible; on Sunday the Monkey worked out on grass and ran four furlongs in an unimpressive 50.88 seconds. If that doesn't work out, The Green Monkey may become the world's costliest manure spreader.

PHOTOLIZ FORREST (SWIMMERS)RING OF HONOR In 34 years at Cheshire, Aston (below) has learned "Nothing great ever happens without enthusiasm."PHOTOALLEN PAUL (ASTON)[See caption above]PHOTOALLEN PAUL (T-SHIRT)PHOTOSKIP DICKSTEIN (GREEN MONKEY)