CHATHAM, NJ - The pool always provided a sanctuary for Shana McLaughlin. In the water, she could block out personal problems and be with her teammates.
That's how swimming became therapeutic when she battled Hodgkin Lymphoma as a sophomore at Chatham High.
"It kind of became my mental therapy," McLaughlin said. "When I didn't feel well, I forced myself to dive in and do a couple sets. It provided an amazing distraction for me. Diving in the pool and finishing a workout gives you a sense of accomplishment. It gave me the confidence to get through the hard days."
McLaughlin never stopped swimming, even though she had a port catheter inserted under he skin so that she could receive regular chemotherapy treatments.
"I always credit swimming as the therapy that got me through the most," McLaughlin said. "Being part of the Chatham High team was like being with family. They were with me through thick and thin. They treated me like any other teammate and it's something I'll always be grateful for, being part of the Chatham team."
The senior gave a little extra back to the program on Saturday when she won the 200-meter individual medley in 2:24.74 and also swam on the winning 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams, helping Chatham win the Morris County Swimming Championships for the sixth straight year.
Shana McLaughlin is the TAP Chatham Athlete of the Week.
McLaughlin hadn't won an individual title as big as this before and it was the culmination of hard work she put in to improve her breaststroke. The medley includes the butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.
"I've been training more than ever," said the 17-year-old. "To see it pay off, it's been worth everything I put into this season worthwhile."
McLaughlin, like other swimmers on the team, gets up at 4 a.m. to put an hour and a half of training in for her club team, the Somerset Hills YMCA. Then she heads straight to school. At night, she puts in another two-hour practice for Chatham High.
"The windows are dark and everyone is asleep," McLaughlin said. "There is something about it that makes you feel like you're being productive and getting better. It motivates you."
The culmination of her training came in the Morris County meet. She had set her sights on improving her breaststroke and it made her a winner.
"When you dive into the water in a big race like that, you don't have the ability to think about what you're doing," McLaughlin said. "I hardly remember the race itself except for the last few meters. It's a strange sensation. They say you swim your best when you're not thinking.
"I was so excited when I won. I was trying to catch my breath. Looking up on the board and seeing that I won was empowering. I always looked up to the older girls on the team. It's exciting to be that senior on the team getting first place."
McLaughlin got interested in swimming when her mother dragged her along to watch her older sister, Taryn, swim. Seeing her sister made Shana want to get into the water. She's been at it ever since.
Taryn McLaughlin is now swimming in college at Binghamton and Shana is headed to Georgetown, where she'll continue to do what she loves.
"Swimming became my passion," McLaughlin said. "Somehow it became engraved in my life. I don't know what I'd do without it."