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Lancaster native swims to NCAA championships as one of nation's best

At 15, Kristen Romano left Lancaster, where she'd lived her entire life, to chase a dream – reaching the highest levels of swimming.

She and her recently retired father, Mike, moved down to Long Island in 2015 so she could compete with the highly-competitive Long Island Aquatic Club. While it was difficult to leave her mother, brother and friends behind, Romano felt the move was necessary to take the next step.

"I hit a plateau in the sport," said Romano, who swam for Lancaster High School and the Town Wreckers Swim Club while living in Western New York. "I wasn't taking off any time and I wasn't getting close to my goals of competing at the Olympic trials and eventually swimming at a Division I college."

The decision paid off.

Three years later, Romano is swimming at Ohio State University, which is currently ranked No. 13 in the nation. As a freshman, she's already set a program record in the 200 backstroke and was part of the group that set a program best in the 4x100 freestyle relay. Following the Big Ten Swimming and Diving Championship, she became the first swimmer in Ohio State history to earn the conference's Freshman of the Year award.

"I wasn't really sure what to expect coming into college swimming," Romano said. "I surprised myself at some points with what I was able to do. That's definitely a product of being able to train with this amazing team."

This week, she faces her biggest challenge yet. Romano will compete at the NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships, which Ohio State is hosting at McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion.

"I've been dreaming about coming to this event since I was a little kid," Romano said. "It kind of dreams coming true here. It's very exciting."

Romano is participating in four events, two relays and two as an individual. She kicks off her week with the 800 freestyle relay on Wednesday. On Friday she'll compete in the 400 individual medley and on Saturday she'll swim the 400 freestyle relay and 200 backstroke.

"I would like to final in some events," Romano said. "Just getting in the pool and winning some points for my team would be fantastic. Just being here at my first NCAAs ... I'm just taking the experience in and learning from it."

Kristen Romano, then swimming for Lancaster High School, won the 100-yard butterfly with a time of 57:82 at the 2014 Section VI girls swimming championships at Erie Community College. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

With all the success she's enjoyed at the collegiate level, she said the upcoming 2020 Olympics in Tokyo is constantly on the back of her mind.

"Olympics is always a goal," Romano said.

She said she plans on attending the long-course national meet this summer in Irvine, Calif., in hopes of earning a top-two finish and becoming Olympic eligible. She'll have options when it comes to international swimming since she's half Puerto Rican. She could compete for either the U.S. or Puerto Rico at the Olympics, but hasn't decided between the two yet.

With the path Romano is now on, she said she has no regrets about moving downstate for her final two years of high school.

"It's definitely taught me a life lesson about taking chances and how thing will pay off if you follow your gut and chase your dreams," Romano said.

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