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Rian Covington: Diving Into the Life of an FSU Swimmer

It started with a seventh-grader from Jacksonville who fell in love with swimming and the feeling of being in the pool. He started much later than the other kids, which put him at a disadvantage. Self-admittedly, Rian Covington says he was terrible. Yet, six years later here he is—a freshman on Florida State University’s (FSU) Men’s Swim and Diving team. Covington’s journey was short compared to most collegiate swimmers, but it was far from easy.

As a freshman at Atlantic Coast High School, Covington did not qualify for states. Still, he continued to train, and he progressively became better. When I asked him what capitulated his performance, whether it was extra hours in the pool, strength training or maybe a coach, he told me, “Not giving up, and the willingness to improve myself—that’s literally the only reason I got better.”

This work ethic and determination took him to the state finals as a junior and qualified him for the Speedo Winter Junior Championships, which, as he put it, “are a big deal in case you didn’t know.”

Impressive as this is, that’s not the whole story. Sophomore year, he got the call on Christmas Eve. Covington was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma—cancer. He was terrified: “I cried when I heard the news. I never cry.” Covington started treatment right away. For six long, hard months, he went through chemotherapy. The radiation takes a toll on the body, and he had to completely give up swimming. Still, the entire time he swore to himself he would be back in the pool one day.

When I asked him how found the strength to push through, he immediately told me, “My friends and family. They supported me and took care of me throughout the entire process, I couldn’t have done it without them.”

During treatment, his friends and family worked to pull off quite the surprise—Michael Phelps, a 28-time Olympic medal winner came to spend a day with him. Covington says, “I had no idea, and when I saw him, I freaked out. I was so grateful and surprised because he’s Michael Phelps; he’s so busy, and he came to spend time with me.” Phelps talked with Covington about swimming technique and gave him advice on perseverance, an experience which Rian described as “super dope.”

And persevere he did. Six months later, Covington received the call that he was completely cancer-free. He told me it was such an inexplicable burden lifted from his shoulders. He could never explain how euphoric and out-of-body the experience was. “I was super relieved I wasn’t going to die anymore,” he said.

Immediately after the call, Rian got right back in the pool. He still had a few more weeks of doctor’s appointments, but he didn’t care—he was back to doing what he loved. And as his journey continued, he began the recruitment process. For Covington, it was pretty simple. The FSU Swim team coach came to his meet in Jacksonville and Covington emailed them a couple of weeks later. He was invited on a visit and got an offer immediately afterward, and he committed. He says it was a no-brainer.

Since he’s been in Tallahassee this fall, Covington has worked extremely hard with 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. practices, as well as 9 a.m. daily lifts. Fortunately, his hard work has been paying off. The swim season lasts seven months, from September until March, and so far, Covington has been performing extremely well. He swims the 50 Freestyle (PR: 20.61), 100 Freestyle (PR: 45.73) and 100 Butterfly (PR: 49.53). Humbly, he told me he would like to make it to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Championship, but he didn’t want to get his hopes up. His teammate leaned over and told me, “Oh, it’s possible.”

Swimming is an extremely individualized sport. Rian tells me, “Whatever you put in is what you get out and no one else can control that.” But, he still says his teammates are his best friends: “We travel together, and we go through the same hardships together. Of course, we’re best friends.” Currently, Rian and his best friends are in Atlanta, Georgia for the Georgia Tech Invite.

In addition to his success in the pool, Rian is also extremely successful in the classroom. As an FSU Presidential Scholar, Covington is majoring in biology with the hope of one day becoming a doctor and helping people just like himself.

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Ally Kukanza is a freshman at Florida State University planning on majoring in Economics. She is also a part of the Presidential Scholars and Honors Programs at FSU, and a David Blaine fanatic!
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