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LEAD BY EXAMPLE

Ex-Dodger Thorson focuses on the positive

Submitted photo/Iowa State Athletics Former Fort Dodge Senior High all-stater Lehr Thorson competes in a meet for Iowa State last season. Thorson is a senior for the Cyclones.

AMES — Lehr Thorson is working through a senior year like none other as a member of the Iowa State University swimming and diving program.

The 2017 Fort Dodge Senior High graduate continues to navigate a fluid schedule altered by the COVID-19 global pandemic, which arrived shortly after last February’s Big 12 Championships. Head coach Duane Sorenson’s Cyclones have improvised and prepared for the new-look 2021 campaign, which is slated to begin next month and continue as scheduled into March.

In order to get there, Thorson — a first team all-Big 12 performer a year ago — knows discipline and leadership are more imperative than ever before. To her, setting the right example means making sure she’s following the rules and safety precautions established by the school and local health officials.

“It’s going to sound like a strange answer, but part of being a leader right now is followship,” said Thorson, also a two-time first team academic all-conference selection for the Cyclones. “As a team, we are focused on controlling what we can. There is an order to all of this if we want to make it work, and we can’t let any selfish (personal) reasons get in the way. So I’m focused on taking the rules established by the school, or the coaches, or the community, or health experts, and walk the walk. Anything from wearing masks on the pool deck, to being careful when we’re away from (the facilities) and on our own.

“I feel like my job is to help the team make things as easy as possible for coaches and officials. If we want to have a full season (in the coming months), we have to really concentrate being consistent with following the proper protocol.”

These are conversations and expectations Thorson couldn’t have ever imagined after taking second place in the 100 breaststroke and third in the 200 breaststroke at the Big 12 Championships last February. The former Dodger all-stater has never been one to dwell on the negative or look too far into the past, though. Thorson’s goal in this new world is to make the most of every opportunity moving forward.

“It’s definitely put everything into a different perspective,” said Thorson, who registered 14 top-three breaststroke meet performances as a junior. “We’re really trying to come together as a team more than ever. We talked about goals and expectations through periods of quarantine, when all hope (for a 2020-21 campaign) seemed to be lost. Now that we could potentially have what could be considered a normal January schedule, we’re embracing the simplicity of being able to function in a live-meet environment again.

“We want to be able to look back and say we put our heads down, did the right things, worked hard and got through it.”

The Iowa State program held a three-day “Cyclone Championship” intrasquad event at Beyer Pool earlier this month. Thorson captured both breaststroke championships, with times of 1:02.58 in the 100 and 2:18.38 in the 200.

“We’ve been kind of simulating our regular schedule with virtual meets all year,” Thorson said of a campaign that usually starts in late-October. “This was our ‘mid-season’ meet, and the coaches wanted to give us a real feel and the same opportunities we’d normally get (in a live setting).

“I was kind of a stick in the mud about it at first, but it ended up being really fun and competitive. We made the most of it and the entire experience was very rewarding. I thought maybe I needed other schools and opponents to make it feel real, but I was wrong. We got a lot out of it and enjoyed being in a ‘meet’ situation.”

Thorson added she has a “newfound respect” for everything the coaching staff and athletic department have gone through just to get Cyclone athletes back in action.

“We’re just so thankful,” Thorson said. “The work they put into everything, from this meet and the necessary protocols all the way back to the offseason of preparing workouts and keeping us all on the same page…I’m not sure we ever fully appreciated it until now.

“For me, more than ever, I’ve also learned how important the ‘team’ aspect of swimming is. Even though it’s an individual sport (on the surface), it wasn’t the same to work alone. Once we all came back together, you really see the value in teamwork for both physical and emotional support. When everyone is going through the same thing, it makes you realize how important it is to be a part of a program.”

Thorson is on track to graduate this spring, and plans to pursue a Master’s Degree in Mass Communications and Journalism.

Iowa State’s first meet in 2021 will be Jan. 16 in Omaha. The 2021 Big 12 Championships are slated for Feb. 24-27 in Austin, Tex.

The NCAA Championships are scheduled for March 17-20 in Greensboro, N.C.

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