Worldwide swimmers find home in Lawrence

Marianne Klovning hits the pool everyday with the Lawrence Aquahawks in a place thousands of miles from her friends and family.

Seventeen-year-old Klovning came to Lawrence this year from Mordfgordeid, Norway to attend Lawrence High as a foreign exchange student.

Klovning began swimming in Norway when she was a young girl. She decided to keep up her competitive hobby when she crossed the Atlantic to the United States this year.

“Swimming here had helped me get more acquainted,” Klovning said. “I’ve met a lot of people in and through the Aquahawks.”

Klovning is one of a handful of international swimmers who have found a home on the Aquahawks swim team.

Like Klovning, other swimmers have come from China and Korea to bridge the gap between cultures and take part in a shared love of the sport.

Klovning swam in Norway with a team, but said her experience with the Aquahawks has been different.

“My swim team in Norway is very little,” Klovning said. “We have one coach and five swimmers on the team. Here the teams are a lot bigger and it is a lot bigger sport in the United States, too.”

Ten-year-old Sungmoon Lim noticed the popularity of the sport as well.

Lim moved to Lawrence with her parents in 1999.

After spending hours splashing around for fun in the Lawrence Aquatic Center pools, where the Aquahawks regularly practice each week, Lim eventually decided to start swimming with the team last September.

Lim speaks both English and Korean at home and said her experiences with the team have been like a cultural equalizer.

“I’ve learned that there isn’t a huge difference between me and the American swimmers,” Lim said. “I just really like to swim and play in the water.”

Lim’s fellow teammate, 8-year-old Emily Ma, moved to the United States with her family four years ago from Beijing, China. Emily’s father, Chi Cheng Ma, said she had not swam until the family moved to the United States and first settled at Marquette University, where she began to take lessons.

Ma started taking Emily to the Lawrence Aquatic Center twice a week after the family moved to Lawrence, and before she joined the Aquahawks.

“I think that swimming is good exercise,” Chi Cheng Ma said. “We thought that she would either like it or she wouldn’t, but we thought we’d try it.”

The team seems to be working out for Ma, as she swims every week with the Aquahawks. Like Klovning, Ma said being a part of the team has made the move to the United States a little easier.

“It has helped me to get to know more kids in the U.S.,” Ma said. “It helps me by swimming together with everyone and getting to know people and knowing how to get along.”

Ma and Lim will remain in the United States with their families, yet after this year Klovning will return to Norway to hers.

Despite the miles and the differences in culture, all three said they had no plans to stop swimming, wherever they might find themselves in the future.