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Born to swim; Gardner teammates plunge on.

Byline: Jay Gearan

GARDNER - Shannan Lambert arrived first in the predawn hours back on April 9, 1990. Then came Hannah Kondrotas, just a few hours later, about 6:30 that same Monday morning.

The two girls met as 7-year-olds when they joined the Greenwood Memorial Swim team. One day they realized they shared the same birthday.

"It was funny," Hannah recalled. "We were both just standing on the pool deck and I asked Shannan when her birthday was. When she told me, all I could say was, "Oh, my God, that's mine too."

And a long friendship began. They clicked.

Asked about those early days, Hannah remembers Shannan. "She was one of those kids who was really popular, and I kept thinking that I was really nerdy."

Recalled Shannan, "Hannah wasn't nerdy. She was cool. She used to play sports a lot with her brothers, and I loved staying over her house. Then she would come over my house, too."

They're 17 years old now, in their senior year at Gardner High, their final swim season together as key members of the Wildcats' talented team coached by Don Lemieux in quest of an amazing 15th straight state championship at the end of February.

Shannan is the daughter of Bill and Brigid Lambert of Gardner. Hannah is the daughter of Fran and Yvette Kondrotas of Barre.

Swimming together for so many years has created so many special memories for Shannan and Hannah, of school, sports, proms, competitions, of course, all sprinkled with lots of laughter.

They've taken driver's education classes together, received their licenses just about the same day, and even celebrated their sweet 16 birthdays together at Hannah's house with friends and family.

"It was a fun time," said Shannan, always the comedian. "I smashed cake in her face."

Mutual swim memories also include special Greenwood meets, those exciting consecutive state high school titles since their freshman year, admiring older Greenwood stars and coaches like Samantha Arsenault, Kerri Charpentier and Timmy Grimes.

Besides birthdays, the girls share similar heights, both 5-foot-10. "That helps. "We swap clothes a lot," Shannan said.

Asked about what they admire the most about each other, Shannan quickly said, "I love Hannah's sense of humor, especially her sarcasm."

Hannah said of Shannan, "It's her charisma. She's got a great personality. And Shannan is a great dancer. On a scale of 1 to 10, she's about an 11.5 and I'm a zero."

Mr. Lemieux said that he appreciated the efforts over the years from both swimmers.

"Hannah is a great kid and a great team leader. In the past couple of years she's really improved and became a state champion in the 500-yard freestyle. And it isn't easy getting to Gardner from Barre every day. She really made a commitment."

With a swimming scholarship awaiting her, Hannah has been accepted to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

Said Lemiuex, "Duquesne is a real good fit for Hannah. She'll be one of their top distance swimmers."

Said Shannan about her college choice, "I'm still looking, but most likely I'll be going to a school in New York next year."

"Shannan was part of our winning 400-freestyle relay team at the state championship," Mr. Lemieux said. "She's one of those kids who really gets psyched for the state championship. She's not afraid to stand up and inspire the whole team."

About the long hours together practicing swimming over the years, Hannah said, "I know I'm prepared for college swimming."

Both girls highly praised Mr. Lemieux's coaching and guidance.

Said Hannah, "He really cares about us." And Shannan added, "When I get out of line, he puts me in my place. I don't know where I would be without him."

"Hannah and I have been really close forever," said Shannan as our interview came to a close during a short break from practice last week. "It's kind of scary thinking about next year." But before graduation and the eventual parting for different colleges, a final challenge remains.

About the upcoming state championship meet, Shannan quoted something she recently read: "If you're positive you've already won it, you've already lost it."

"Hey, that's good. I like that," Hannah said. "We really have to keep working hard this winter."

Then the two swimmers became very positive about their coach's suggestion for an outdoor photo. And soon the dynamic duo stood, wearing their racing suits in the snow outside the Greenwood Pool, bravely smiling in freezing weather under the icicles hanging from the roof gutters.

"This is awesome," said Shannan a few seconds before the next sound.



CUTLINE: (1) Shannan Lambert, rear, and Hannah Kondrotas have been friends and swimmers for a long time. (2) Friends and Wildcats swim teammates Shannan Lambert, left, and Hannah Kondrotas pose for a cool photo.

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Dec 30, 2007
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