Staff Photo: John Bohn Allison Carr, a North Gwinnett senior swimmer, was county champ and state runner-up last season in the 100 breast stroke at the state high school meet. Carr wishes to continue swimming and possibly studying genetic research at Emory or Davidson next year.
Now it's a family joke, but almost a decade ago, when Allison Carr swam her first race, her parents were worried she wasn't going to make it to the end.
It was a 25-meter freestyle.
Carr smiles when she looks back on it.
The senior is North Gwinnett's best swimmer. She was the county champion and state runner-up last year in the 100 breaststroke, her specialty.
She was also sixth at state in the 100 freestyle.
Carr, contemplatively quiet and thoughtful in her speech, has come a long way since she labored through her first 25-meter race.
"I've always liked being in the water, but I'd never even thought about swimming until I was 8," she said. "Our neighborhood had a really big summer league team (Rivermoore Park). It was a big deal there, so I thought I would give it a try."
Difficult as it was, after her first summer, Carr knew being in the pool was something she wanted to do. She started training year-round at SwimAtlanta after the summer season ended.
Carr made big strides quickly, winning a state championship in the breaststroke when she was 10.
It was then Carr found herself devoted to that discipline.
"I just had to train in it after that," she said. "My coach wouldn't let me get out of the lane."
But during the high school season, Carr does a lot for North -- and relishes the opportunity.
"Because there are so many meets, you get to experiment with a lot of different events and do things you wouldn't normally get to do," Carr said. "It makes it a lot of fun."
She was sixth at state last season in the 100 freestyle.
"I like sprint freestyle," Carr said. "It's fun because of the adrenaline. You have to go all out so fast and then it's over so fast. It's like, 'What just happened?'"
Carr also swims the 100 butterfly and tried the 500 freestyle for the first time in about five years last season.
"She's basically the core of the women's team," North head coach Doug Nieman said, "because she can swim anything.
"She came within a second of school record of the 100 fly at our last meet. She's pretty versatile. The only thing I won't put her in is backstroke. Any freestyle. She wanted to swim the fly, so I let her. She went pretty quick. She's just an all-around swimmer."
There's no denying Carr has a competitive personality. She admits it -- with a smile that reaches her eyes.
"She's not going to let someone just beat her," Nieman said.
There's also no denying Carr likes to be busy.
She is an outstanding student who puts more emphasis on academics than swimming.
"Athletics is not first in her life, which is unique when you're that good," Nieman said. "That's what makes her relatable and a joy to be around.
"The biggest thing with Allison is swimming is not the main priority. Swimming is an avenue for getting her where she wants to go. She's a great student-athlete and she puts 'student' first, which is awesome."
Carr has narrowed her college choices to Emory and Davidson, among some of the best schools in the nation. Davidson, near Charlotte, N.C., is rated the No. 11 liberal arts college in the country by U.S. News. Emory is in the top 20 of universities nationally -- a list topped by Harvard and stocked with Ivy League institutions. Both colleges accept just 29 percent of applicants.
"I care a lot about my grades -- I'm kind of a dork," Carr said unashamedly. "I want to go somewhere that really respects that you have to put aside time to study and do your work as well."
As if school and swimming at an elite level weren't enough, Carr developed a serious interest in dance three years ago. She's on a team at North and takes classes at night after swim practice.
"It's really important to me," Carr said.
She missed part of a swim meet because of a dance performance. But that was OK with Nieman, who wants the kids to enjoy their years in high school.
It probably helps that Carr is there whenever the team needs her, in any race.
"She's a strong swimmer and a good all-around person," Nieman said. "She's a good friend and a good student. She's humble. She lets her accomplishments speak for her. She doesn't boast. She's just a joy to have on the team."