Swimming is not only a pastime for Matt Russell -- it is an integral part of his future.
Russell, who lives in Evans and has been swimming year-round since he was 12 years old, is home-schooled and takes college courses. In addition, he practices swimming for about three hours on weekdays and four hours on Saturdays for Greater Augusta Swimming.
Russell is part of the platinum group for GAS at the Augusta Aquatics Center.
"You could call it a part-time job of like 30 hours or more," Russell said.
This senior's hard work has paid off. Russell recently received a swimming scholarship for the University of Kentucky from Gary Conelly, the college's head swim coach.
"I knew it was coming. I talked to the coaches for so long," Russell said. "There wasn't any surprise involved. It was just nice for the payoff of all the hard years of work."
Swimming is a good sport to learn the lessons of hard work, said his GAS swimming coach, Jeff Rout.
"The good thing about swimming is it teaches you (that) if you work hard you can succeed and you can get rewards," Rout said.
Swimming has other advantages for Russell. He has traveled throughout the country competing in swim meets. He's visited areas such as Atlanta, Houston and New York.
All types of sports appeal to Russell, he said. Before swimming, Russell played soccer and he also tried his hand at teaching, working as a swim coach and lifeguard at the Aquatics Center.
Russell is busy with academics too. He has been joint-enrolled at Augusta State for three years. Rout said he thinks Russell will adjust well to college life because of his determination.
"A lot of kids set goals, but he actually has the drive to work towards them," his coach said.
Russell said he looked at other colleges before deciding to attend the University of Kentucky. He especially liked the warm weather at the University of Florida's campus, but said he's excited to start college in Kentucky this fall, and he's looking forward to meeting new people.
"Most of the swimmers are on the same floor of one dorm, so it's a good bonding atmosphere," he said.
Russell said he doesn't know what degree he'll pursue yet, but he's interested in either physics or pre-med.
Rout said he just wants Russell to have a good college experience. Qualifying for the SEC or NCAA championship would be an added bonus, he said.
"I hope the team does well, because college swimming is a lot of fun. It's a really neat atmosphere," Rout said. "When he's done he can look back and he'll have his education and he'll have his degree."
In the meantime, though, swimming will keep Russell occupied until he leaves for college.
"You get bored when you don't have swim practice," he said. "You have too much time."
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