On the Fourth of July, 2008, more than 13,000 swimming fans packed the QWest Center in downtown Omaha, Nebraska, for a red, white and blue celebration.
America’s best swimmers gathered for the Olympic Trials finals, among them former Mountain View High School and UA standout Lacey Nymeyer, who was to swim in the 100 freestyle finals.
“Lacey will have to swim the race of her life," said UA assistant coach Rick DeMont, a former world record-holder. It would be the culmination of a celebrated career that began 16 years earlier at the modest Oracle Heights facility in Oro Valley.
Never one to disappoint, the 12-time NCAA champion finished third to qualify for Team USA’s Beijing Olympic squad in both the 100 freestyle and 4x100 relay. She would win a silver medal in Beijing.
“My daughter, Angela, swam with Lacey when she was 6 or 7," DeMont told me that night in Omaha. “I remember the little tiny thing whose swim cap was too big for her. But she was a tiger from the beginning."
No. 58 on our list of Tucson’s Top 100 Sports Figures of the last 100 years, that “little tiger" celebrated the Fourth of July, 2008, by walking to the medal stand as red and blue lights flickered through the QWest Center.
“As I told my family, what do you do when all your dreams come true?" she told me.
Lacey, who later married former Eastern Arizona College basketball player Chandler John, with whom she has two young children, is the granddaughter of Ed Nymeyer, who was the UA’s No. 1 career scoring leader in basketball when he graduated from the UA in 1958.
After Lacey helped Arizona win the 2008 NCAA championship — capturing the 100 freestyle and three national championship relays — Ed Nymeyer laughed as he told me “I used to be somebody; now I’m Lacey’s grandpa."
But Lacey’s most significant victory was yet to come. In 2009, she was selected as the NCAA’s Woman of the Year, an annual award given to the female athlete the NCAA deems to have the most impressive combination of academic, athletic, leadership and community involvement skills.
Lacey chose to enroll at Arizona for the 2003-04 season, electing to stay home rather than accept offers from national powers UCLA and Cal, as well as BYU; the Nymeyer family is part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
When she began training with the Hillenbrand Aquatic Center program during her high school days, she lined up every day against Olympic gold medalists Amanda Beard, Beth Botsford and NCAA champions like Ryk Neethling and Roland Schoeman.
She fit right in.
“A college scholarship would’ve been fine," her father, Aaron Nymeyer, a former Canyon del Oro High School baseball standout, told me the day before Lacey made the 2008 Olympic team. “But we had no idea about all of this."
All of this?
“She’s a girl with a big dream," her father said.
At the 2004 Olympic Trials in Long Beach, California, the 18-year-old Nymeyer failed to make the American Olympic team, but she used that moment as motivation, not one of failure.
“I have so much to look forward to," she told me on the deck of the aquatic center in Long Beach. “I don’t see the Trials as ‘it’ for me. I have college coming up. I get to swim for Frank Busch and the UA. In a way, I think I’m just getting started."
Was she ever.
After retiring from swimming in 2010, Lacey worked for five years as associate director of the UA’s CATS LifeSkills program. She is now the director of career and professional development for the UA Alumni Association.
Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at 520-573-4362 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @ghansen711