When John Sweeney’s work forced his family’s relocation from Texas to the Atlanta area in 2007, he and his wife Patty had a few very important requirements. Atop the list was a high-level swim club for his swim-crazy family.
The Sweeney children began competitive swimming with Longhorn Aquatics in Austin, Texas, with renowned coach Eddie Reese, and needed a new training site in Georgia.
“I asked Eddie Reese for advice about which program in the Atlanta area would be the best fit for our kids,” John Sweeney said. “He said without any hesitation, ’SwimAtlanta, and they need to swim for Chris Davis.’”
Armed with that information, the Sweeneys went house hunting.
“I told our realtor, Robert Orr, that we needed a house big enough for seven kids, we wanted our kids to be in a great public school system, we needed to be close enough that Patty would have a quick drive to the SwimAtlanta Sugarloaf pool and I needed a reasonable commute to Emory,” John Sweeney said. “He said, ‘That’s easy. You need a home in one of the subdivisions off Webb Gin House Road, your kids will be in the Brookwood school district, Patty will have a 15-minute drive to SwimAtlanta Sugarloaf and you’ll have a 30-minute commute to Emory.’ So, in a way we, and Brookwood and SwimAtlanta, owe it all to Eddie Reese and Robert Orr.”
With that, a line of Sweeneys have passed through SwimAtlanta and Brookwood on the way to larger life accomplishments. The three oldest — Allyson (Texas A&M), Conor (Georgia) and Aidan (Georgia) — were college swimmers, while two younger daughters, Devan (Auburn) and Tegan (Notre Dame) are current college swimmers, and another son, Keenan, also was a swimmer before playing college football at Auburn and Notre Dame.
The youngest, and last of the Sweeney line, is following the same path. Brookwood senior Reagan Sweeney is one of the state’s top swimmers and an LSU recruit, the seventh and final Sweeney headed to NCAA Division I athletics.
“I hear it all the time (about being the last of seven Sweeneys),” Reagan Sweeney said. “Honestly, I would say the best way to describe it is it’s an honor to be the last of seven kids who — all of my older siblings have done something great. Just to be able to call each one of them my siblings is great. They’re all my role models. It’s something I’m so blessed to be a part of. I wouldn’t have the opportunities I’ve been given today without them and I definitely wouldn’t be swimming if it weren’t for them. I matched my love for swimming and it’s connected with my family, them and my parents. It’s a blessing.”
Of the seven Sweeney children, the youngest is the most Georgian. She doesn’t remember much from Texas because she was 4 when the family moved.
“I think I’ve been to the most swim meets out of my whole family,” Reagan Sweeney said. “I just was dragged along everywhere. When we moved here to Georgia from Texas, I started swimming here. So I’m the only Sweeney that’s gone all the way through SwimAtlanta. I learned to swim here. I hated it at the beginning. You can ask anyone. I’d be crying on the side of the pool and did not want to get in. Once my mom kind of forced me, like ‘Get in the pool,’ ever since then I’ve been swimming.”
As he coached the older Sweeneys, Davis watched as Reagan Sweeney developed into a top swimmer, too. He recalled an open water training session at Berkeley Lake when Reagan was 7 and riding in a boat with Davis while her older siblings were in the group of swimmers churning water alongside it.
“Reagan sat there and would not even speak to me,” Davis said. “I was trying to tell her funny jokes, little stories, but she looked straight ahead. I was thinking, ‘I don’t know how this is going to go if I ever coach her.’ This past summer she did a zillion lake swims because we were locked out of the pool and shut down (by the COVID-19 pandemic). It was neat she was in the same place she rode in the boat with me 10 years earlier, but she was doing the swims now.”
The coach-swimmer relationship between Davis and the youngest Sweeney has gone well — Davis said they have a matching dry sense of humor — as Sweeney’s career has progressed. Her accomplishments now stack up well with those of her older siblings, adding a final chapter to the family’s legacy at the year-round club and at Brookwood.
“No. 1, they’re one of the greatest families to ever come to SwimAtlanta and then you get seven of them, all national-level athletes,” Davis said. “It’s pretty unusual to get a family that everybody is pretty good like that. They’re great parents, rarely do you ever hear from them. They kind of let the kids fight their own battles. It’s been a great experience. It’s been awesome to be a part of those seven kids’ careers, two of them (Aidan and Keenan) are going to be doctors, one (Allyson) is a coach. Which I think we maybe had a little influence with her wanting to get into coaching. And the others are doing great, too. It’s pretty super. … The interesting thing is they’re all 180s from each other. I don’t know that I could say there were any similarities with any of them. You’d almost want to do a DNA test on each one of them because they’re so different. Physically, emotionally, personality-wise, they’re just all extremely different, which is fun, too. They’re their own person for sure.”
Reagan Sweeney agreed with that assessment.
As a swimmer, she considers herself a combination of Devan as a butterflyer, and Tegan as a freestyler, in addition to her older brothers who were freestylers. Personality-wise, it is tough to make precise comparisons between one Sweeney sibling and another. Reagan loves to dance, loves baking and does pilates, an activity she loves along with her mother and sisters.
“We’re all really different,” she said. “I think I have little parts of everyone. I can be soft spoken like my older sister. But I can goof off sometimes with my younger sisters. We’re all different. What makes us special is we all have different personalities and we all come together and it’s fun.”
For all their differing personalities, the Sweeneys have the common bond of success as swimmers, and in the classroom. Reagan fits the pattern on both fronts, sporting a 4.0 GPA and a top-25 academic ranking in Brookwood’s senior class to go with her swimming accolades.
Her own swimming success story took flight when she was 9 or 10, she said.
“I used to goof around at the back of the pool, the back of the lane, when I was younger,” Reagan Sweeney said. “I’d be in the back of the lane dolphin diving. It wasn’t until I moved into Diamond with Andy, Coach Andy Griffin (now a coach at SwimAtlanta Roswell), that I started getting pretty good. I always credit him for getting me where I am today. At a young age, I was just, ‘This is fun, goofing around.’ With him, I started to take off.”
When she arrived at Brookwood, it didn’t take Sweeney long to add to her family’s legacy. As a freshman, she was fifth at state in both the 100 butterfly and the 200 freestyle for a state championship team, and won the Gwinnett County title in the 100 fly. She was third at state in the 100 fly and the 200 free in 2019 for another state championship team.
She was state and county runner-up in the 200 free last season as a junior, as well as third at state and county champ in the 100 fly.
“Of course, it goes without saying around these parts that the Sweeneys have likely been the single most influential family on the Brookwood swim and dive program, and it is not inconsequential to see such an unprecedented streak come to an end,” Brookwood swim and dive head coach Jack Gayle said. “The stability they have provided the program over the years is undeniable and will have a lasting impact far into the future, and Reagan is a worthy culmination to this unique family story. Like the six Sweeneys who came before her, Reagan’s work ethic is matched only by her team spirit, and her list of accomplishments when she leaves Brookwood will certainly be par for the course in the Sweeney household. However, she’s the only Sweeney I have had the pleasure of coaching for all four years, so she’ll always be the most special to me.”
Reagan’s final season is winding down with her last Gwinnett high school championship meet this weekend, followed by one last state high school meet, where the Broncos have their usual high hopes despite the challenges of a season during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During such a strange season, one so full of uncertainty, it has been invaluable to have Reagan as a leader of the Brookwood swim and dive team,” Gayle said. “While her senior year might not be the one she envisioned for herself or her teammates, she has remained focused on the pursuit of championships at the county and state levels while keeping everyone around her as upbeat and positive as is possible during these strange times. I would love to see Reagan close out her career with an individual state title as well as another team title, but whatever happens, I’m proud of the swimmer and leader she has become and the impact she has had on Brookwood swim and dive.”
As a team captain, Sweeney has focused on making the COVID-impacted season as enjoyable as possible despite limitations that prevent the typical full team gatherings and dinners. Unlike other high school sports, spectators haven’t been permitted at meets, which makes for a much different atmosphere. That change will be glaring this week at the county meet with empty stands and a mostly open pool deck for a meet that is regularly packed with noisy fans and teammates who aren’t swimming on deck.
“Definitely my goal and the team, me and the other two captains, we just want to make the season as fun and as normal as possible, especially with COVID,” Sweeney said. “It’s not the same. Nothing’s the same. Everything’s so different. Always my goal is to have fun and take the stress out of swimming, just race and have fun. I’m just trying to make it normal for the girls, and for the guys, too. And just try to remind them to just race, think of this as a normal meet, and have a fun last year for all the seniors.”
When prodded, Sweeney mentioned some individual goals for the final weeks of her high school swimming career, too. One of those, not surprisingly, is tied to her large family.
Her three older sisters — Allyson (400 free relay), Tegan (200 free relay) and Devan (100 fly, medley relay) — have their names on the school-record board. Because of that, she has targeted Devan’s 100-yard fly record of 54.52 seconds. She is slightly more than a half-second off with the county and state meets to come.
“I know she’d be mad at me (if I broke her record),” Sweeney said. “She did tell me, ‘I’m going to try to make this record as fast as possible so you have to go faster to break it.’”
After high school swimming finishes up, Sweeney can begin preparation for college swimming. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, her recruiting process was virtual earlier this year before she chose LSU over Ohio State. Her coaches foresee a bright future with the SEC school.
“(Sweeney) has tremendous tools, she really does,” Davis said. “If she ever puts it all together, she can go as far as she wants in the sport. She’s a very hard worker, very consistent, a great teammate, a really good feel for the water, very coachable, all the intangibles you look for in an athlete.”
Those are traits Sweeney shares with her siblings, whose accomplishments set the bar high in and out of the pool. She said never felt family pressure, only the pressure she put on herself, to perform at a high level in athletics and academics.
She understands the comparisons with her brothers and sisters, and has embraced the attention that comes with being the last of the swimming Sweeneys.
“I still got a lot of comments about that,” Sweeney said. “If I meet someone new and introduce myself, it’s ‘Are you so and so’s sibling? Are you the youngest Sweeney?’ Sometimes it would bother me in the past, but honestly it never really annoyed me much. The first thing I would think about it is that it’s so awesome they know my siblings and they know they have done something extraordinary like I do. So they see my siblings as amazing people like I do. So, every time someone says that to me, I say, ‘Yes, I am their sibling.’”