Sisters swim to their own beat



By Alex Iniguez

Sisters Amy and Anna Johnson have a lot in common.

They share a remarkable attention to detail, are disciplined student-athletes, and both understand the crucial importance of a team.

In addition to being members of the Illinois swimming and diving team, both women have a gift for music. Amy plays the cello, piano and bassoon, while Anna plays the violin, viola and piano.

Their talents are hardly a coincidence, though. Amy and Anna are identical twins.

The Johnson sisters come from a talented family. Their parents and grandparents are musically gifted, and their older sisters were swimmers and musicians before them. In addition, the twins’ older brothers were water polo players.

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    Amy and Anna began competing at the age of four in Quincy, becoming part of a tight swimming family: the Sheridan Swim Team. As they grew older, the two moved on to Quincy Senior High School, where Coach Timothy Lewarchick got them interested in swimming for Illinois. At the time, Anna was competing in breaststroke and Amy was pursuing backstroke. Once the two moved into 10th grade, they switched events.

    “I wasn’t excelling in backstroke like I wanted to,” Amy said. “Anna was turning into a backstroker, and I thought that it would be a better idea to change. It ended up being a great decision.”

    After high school, the twins decided to attend Illinois. The decision had little to do with swimming and much more to do with academics. They didn’t even contact the coaching staff until after they had made their decision to attend the University.

    “Amy’s my continuous support,” Anna said. “Not only were we switching teams but coming to college for the first time. So having Amy there with me was really important and comforting.”

    The twins came to Illinois and settled in. They showed the program what they had to offer and began to improve under the coaching staff.

    “We had the opportunity to work a lot with Coach Sue (Novitsky) last year when we were part of the distance group,” Amy said. “She’s a great coach and was so encouraging through our freshman year. Now we work with Coach Steve (Farnau) more. He’s helping me with a lot of my strokes and I’m excited to see how these changes will make my swimming better and faster as the season progresses.”

    The sophomore sisters said there are very few disadvantages to having a twin on the team. The biggest drawback is the confusion that it causes.

    “Sometimes it’s hard for us to keep our separate identities,” Amy said. “Half of the girls on the team still can’t tell us apart, and that’s not just the freshmen, that’s some of the upperclassmen, too.”

    And, of course, the twins are competitive with each other.

    “We’ll be in the same relay, and we’ll fight for split times. Thank goodness we swim different strokes, or else I’d go crazy,” Anna said.

    Don’t mistake this for a bitter sibling rivalry, though. The twins see this competitiveness as a tool for motivation and use their knowledge of one another to push each other to the limit.

    “She motivates me by getting me out of my occasional ruts,” Amy said. “Days where I’m just not feeling great, she helps me to get over it and she makes me realize that I have to try hard anyway.”

    The twins’ parents can see the benefits of having the coaching staff at Illinois join in the Johnson swimming family and not just on a swimming level.

    “Sue and Steve are loved task masters,” said their father, Lee Johnson. “They have provided the structure and discipline that is so very important in the transition between adolescence and adult life.”

    It’s obvious that to the Johnson twins being hard-working, intelligent people is more important than merely swimming fast. As far as their goals at Illinois go, the Johnson twins have it pretty well figured out.

    “Keep improving my times in the pool,” Anna said. “Academically, hopefully I’ll graduate in my four years and get into medical school.”

    Amy isn’t as decided on her future as Anna.

    “Keep working hard. Work hard for grades and work hard in the pool. And declare a major,” Amy said with a laugh.

    Accomplishing those goals would be music to their ears.