NCAA DIVISION II SWIMMING CHAMPIONSHIPS : Lawrence Missed by Team as She Finally Returns to Classes

Times Staff Writer

A year ago, Crista Lawrence, Cal State Northridge sophomore swimmer, put on a memorable performance at the NCAA Division II championships. She won the 200-yard butterfly in a record 2:06.03, then joined seniors Tracy McCluskey, Kathy Danford and Michele Hampton for another record win in the 800-yard freestyle relay.

This year, Lawrence would have considered it a victory just to be on hand for the nationals.

Lawrence, a two-time All-American, was paralyzed last summer in a freak surfing accident, leaving her chances of continuing her education in doubt. She spent more than seven months in the hospital and was only discharged three weeks ago. Confined to a wheelchair, she immediately returned to classes at CSUN.

She is taking seven units and was forced to pass up an invitation by Pete Accardy, the Northridge swim coach, to accompany the CSUN swimmers to Florida because of lab requirements for a chemistry class.

But she hasn't forgotten her teammates.

"I've been thinking about them a lot, wondering what they are doing," she says. "I've been calling every night to see how they've been doing."

To the Lady Matadors, Lawrence is not really a former teammate.

"She's still a part of the team," says Krissy Walden, a sophomore on the squad. "She comes to a lot of things. She's now going to school . . . and it's good to see her. She's an inspiration because of all she's been through, and she's come out so far ahead."

With perhaps even more still ahead. She has been tentatively accepted at USC, under a special program for disabled athletes. She hopes to start there in the fall, pursuing a degree in biology.

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