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Globe North Sports

Swimming toward a dream

Reading High champ has eye on Olympics

Erica Belcher, at Reading’s Burbank Y, swims nearly 35 hours a week. Erica Belcher, at Reading’s Burbank Y, swims nearly 35 hours a week. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Doug Saffir
Globe Correspondent / September 12, 2010

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Before the sun rises and before most folks are awake, Erica Belcher is in the pool. After school, when many of her classmates at Reading High focus on clubs or homework, she is in the pool. And in the evening, when families sit down to dinner or start winding down their day, Belcher is back in the pool.

For nearly 35 hours each week, Belcher is in the pool, swimming. For the past three years, this has been her training regimen: six hours and 45 minutes, covering 18,000 yards (or just over 10 miles) every weekday, starting at just before 5 in the morning. Leaving little time for nourishment, homework, and sleep. Swimming, she acknowledges, has consumed her life.

The rewards have been very satisfying. A year ago, as a junior, Belcher successfully defended her state titles in the 200-meter individual medley and the 100-meter backstroke.

In December, representing her club team, the Andover-based Crimson Aquatic at the semi-annual YMCA Nationals in Ohio, she placed eighth overall in the 200 IM in a field of 200.

She has prepared all summer for her senior season. And now that it has arrived, she has big dreams.

“This year I want to be undefeated in states, and defend my titles again,’’ she said. “And for the team, I want to win the Middlesex League for the fourth year in a row. So that’s what we’re going to do.’’

Over the past three months, she put in hours in training, practicing twice per day with the Aquatic. Last month, in a national competition in California, Belcher placed in the top 35 in all five of her events. “That experience was incredible. It’s a lot different than the high school level,’’ Belcher said. “It brings together everyone who is the best in their high schools, so it’s intense. But to succeed at that level means a lot.’’

Her success reflects her dedication. But her accomplishments in swimming are not part of a dream she crafted hastily. In fact Belcher can pinpoint the moment, nearly a decade ago, when she realized what she was capable of in the water.

“When I was 8 years old, I won a U8 New England Championship competition,’’ she said. “They gave points for nine events, and I came out on top. At that point, I said swimming was going to be my thing, so I joined a club team.’’

At 11, she joined the Aquatic. The team had a reputation for producing successful high school swimmers, and Belcher was expected to join the ranks.

“Walking into a high school program, she was more prepared than anyone else I have seen. And that’s a statement to the coaching she had beforehand,’’ said Reading coach Lois Margeson.

“She made an impact from her first day at Reading,’’ said Margeson. “And this year, I have seen signs of her maturing, coming out as a captain, and developing confidence.’’

Now, three years, four state titles, and a Middlesex League MVP later, Belcher is determined to prove herself one more time. But doing so will not come easy. Her schedule will be busier than usual in the coming weeks: She is planning recruiting trips to a few Division I swim programs across the country. While her visits will help her make the decision, she already has an idea of where she wants to be.

“Ideally, I’ll end up in the south. It’s just warmer there, and I need good weather,’’ Belcher said. “At this point, my top schools are Auburn and Indiana University. They have great programs, but are well-balanced with academics.’’

Her talent will likely take her where she wants to be. And Belcher is going to push herself beyond the college level.

“My freshman year in college will be the Olympic year,’’ she added. “And hopefully, I’ll be at the trials.’’

Until then, Belcher will continue her daily grind. She will be in the pool as often as she is in the classroom. She will find time for homework and for meals. And in those precious few hours when she sleeps, Belcher will dream big.

And when she wakes up before sunrise, she can look forward to spending another day making those dreams a reality.

Doug Saffir can be reached at dsaffir@globe.com.