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Last Hurrah

PHOENIX — When Phoenix swimmer Courtney Nelson glanced at the scoreboard just moments after finishing the 200-yard freestyle at the District 4 swim meet last Saturday at the Southern Oregon University pool, she was, understandably, a bit bewildered.

Nelson, a senior, befuddledly looked at Pirates coach Jim Heath, then attempted to locate her lane number again and match it with the time on the scoreboard.

"I was really confused," Nelson, 17, said. "It didn't really click in my head. It totally caught me off guard."

Finally, the feeling sank in — she just broke a Phoenix High School record and one held by her older sister Kelsey.

Courtney finished in 2 minutes, 3.85 seconds, which bested Kelsey's 2004 time of 2:04.65.

"It was so crazy," Courtney said. "I've been wanting to break that since the beginning of this year."

Even better was the fact her sister, a 2006 Phoenix graduate, was there to witness it.

"I was ecstatic," Kelsey Nelson, 20, said. "I think people in the stands thought I was crazy. I was screaming as loud as I could. I was hoping she would (break the record) all season. I figured if someone breaks my record, I want it to be my sister. I was really proud of her."

Today, the younger Nelson heads to Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham for the two-day Class 4A/3A/2A/1A swimming state championships.

Nelson is set to compete in four events. She's the No. 3 seed in the 200 free, the fourth seed in the 100 fly, and is a member of the 200 free (third seed) and 400 free (seventh seed) Phoenix relay teams.

And she'll have her sister as inspiration once again.

Courtney missed Kelsey's 100 fly record by three-tenths of a second at the district meet with a time of 1:05.76, though that mark proved good enough for a district title.

"I would really like to break that, too, and have two of my records up there," Courtney said. "I'm nervous, excited, really stressed out. This is my last chance. I was telling my sister that I never realized how stressful it is as a senior over any other year because you don't have a chance to go back and do it again. This is my last hurrah."

Breaking another of Kelsey's records would be a fitting career-capping moment for the younger Nelson.

Kelsey was a large part of Courtney's desire to swim at an early age and Courtney spent many of her days in high school chasing after Kelsey.

"She was my idol and I wanted to be like her," said Courtney, who plans to attend Oregon State University next fall and study to be a registered dietitian. "I always would try to keep up with her. Now I just try to do my best to beat her."

Ironically, it was Courtney who served as Kelsey's motivation to initially break the 200 free school record back in 2004. Kelsey said, in that particular race, she remembers "thinking about Courtney the whole time. It gave me the extra oomph."

"I said, 'I'm going to do this for Courtney,'" said Kelsey, currently a sophomore pre-education major at the University of Oregon. "It's really weird. She wasn't even at the meet. I might have had a conversation with her before that race.

"She's always been so supportive of me."

Now the roles have changed.

"It would be so cool to see her break (the 100 fly record)," Kelsey said. "I had my time in high school. I think she's always kind of lived in my shadow and to see her do her own thing is fun for me to watch. She's an awesome swimmer."

Nelson is most recognized for her smooth technique on the straights and her endurance.

"She's a great athlete," Phoenix coach Jim Heath said. "The comments I hear from other parents are, 'I love to watch Courtney swim because she's effortless. It looks effortless.'

"I don't have many technique flaws for her to work on. She's very good."

Courtney took fifth in state in the 200 free in her sophomore and junior seasons. But her highlight to date came in 2006 when she won a state title in the 400 freestyle relay with, among others, her sister Kelsey.

"That was amazing," Courtney said. "It was really awesome to be able to share that with my sister in her last year."

Courtney hopes to experience a similar feeling at this year's state meet.

"I don't doubt she's a top three finisher," Heath said. "There is some tough competition. Courtney doesn't swim year round and there are some swimmers who are part of U.S. swim teams that have some pretty impressive times in front of her. But she'll give them a race.

"She's a competitor. If it's her sister or teammates or someone from another team, if you are within striking distance, she's going to try to beat you."

Reach reporter Luke Andrews at 776-4469, or e-mail landrews@mailtribune.com

Courtney Nelson’s natural swimming form in the freestyle impresses coaches, fellow swimmers and spectators.