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Chard has qualified for the OSAA state meet all three years in 100 butterfly and backstroke

PMG PHOTO: DEREK WILEY - Canby swimmer Mairen Chard signed with the University of Idaho.

Even after signing the national letter of intent, Mairen Chard could not believe she was officially a Division I college swimmer.

"It kind of seems unreal because I don't think of myself as being that fast because I know there's always someone faster than me," Chard said after signing with the University of Idaho in a celebration at Canby High School on Nov. 13. "It's eye-opening, and insane and crazy. It doesn't seem real. I can't believe it's happening."

Chard did not start swimming until she was 9 years old. She only showed up at the Canby Swim Club to stay in shape for soccer.

"I just fell in love with how hard it was," Chard recalled of swimming. "Soccer was always easy for me. I was good at soccer, but I was much better at swimming and it was a lot harder, and I loved that."

Eric Laitinen, Chard's high school and club coach, began working with her at age 10.

She made quite the early impression.

Laitinen remembers Chard breaking her arm playing soccer. After hinting that she could get a cast that would work under water, Chard showed up to practice two days later with that cast.

"That kind of set the pace for her," Laitinen said. "She always has a great attitude."

At 10, Chard qualified for her first long course state meet. At 13, she went to her first senior sectionals. She would then qualify for zone and future meets.

In the eighth grade, Chard stopped playing soccer to completely focus on swimming. That meant practicing six days a week, including doubles twice a week, waking up at 4:30 a.m. to be in the pool by 5.

"I love it. It's weird, but I do," Chard said. "It makes me better."

In high school, Chard has qualified for the OSAA Class 6A state meet in the 100-yard butterfly and backstroke all three years. As a freshman, she placed eighth in the backstroke. Her sophomore year, Chard finished eighth in the fly and ninth in the back.

During her junior year, Chard decided she wanted to swim in college at either a Division I or II program.

"I wasn't going to settle for anything less than that," she said. "I got in contact with coaches and I sold myself."

One of those coaches was Mark Sowa at Idaho. While Chard also considered Penn State, Washington State and Hawaii, Idaho was always her favorite.

She visited the Moscow campus at the beginning of September, which included dinner with the team and attending practice.

"It was just a really good time and I got a feel for how the team dynamic worked," Chard said. "I love the campus and the team and everything. I really love the coach. He's awesome. I get along with him really well."

But Chard, who committed to the Vandals later that month, already knew she wanted to swim at Idaho before she ever stepped on campus.

Her mom, aunt and uncle also attended Idaho.

"Idaho was my first option degree wise and they had swimming," said Chard, who plans to major in biological engineering.

Derek Wiley
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