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Aug 23, 2013

Jon Cooper, Sting Daily –

There was a time, oh, around 13 years ago, when there wasn’t a better freestyle sprinter in the South and possibly in the entire United States, than University of Georgia’s Courtney Shealy.

Be it anywhere from 50 yards to 400 on the NCAA level, Shealy was it (she also was pretty potent in the 100 backstroke). She was as special at 400-meter Free on the Olympic level, earning a pair of gold medals as part of relays on the world’s biggest stage in Sydney, Australia.

Tomorrow night, that swimming phenomenon, who now goes by Courtney Shealy Hart, head coach of Georgia Tech’s Swimming and Diving teams, will take her place among Georgia’s swimming elite when she is inducted into the Georgia Aquatic Hall of Fame at its third Annual Banquet at the Atlanta Athletic Club. The festivities begin at 6:00 p.m.

“It’s a relatively new Hall of Fame, so to be one of the first couple of classes to be inducted is very exciting,” said Hart. “It’s a very big honor and I’m humbled that they thought of me for one of their earlier classes. Obviously, the people that I’m going in with, are very special to me so I’m very much looking forward to [tomorrow night].”

Joining Hart in the Hall’s third class will be her close friend, UGA and USA teammate Kristy Kowal, University of Florida’s David Larson, Paralympian Curtis Lovejoy and Georgia’s Billy Ray Schmidt.

Kowal is especially important.

Hart, and Kowal arrived in Athens together, were four-time All-Americans together and contributed to teams that won back-to-back NCAA Championships (1999, 2000) and four straight SEC titles. They also were part of three SEC Champions in the 400-yard medley relay, and 200-yard freestyle relay, a pair of SEC Champions in the 200-yard medley relay, and one champion in the 400-yard and 800-yard freestyle relay.

Away from the pool they were roommates, training together for, then competing in, the 2000 Olympics.

“[Getting inducted with Kowal] means the world to me,” said Hart. “We were at Georgia together, we actually spent eight years together. We were roommates those entire eight years. So it’s a very special day and extra special that I get to share it with Kristy, considering all that we’ve shared in the past.

“She lives in Pennsylvania now so we don’t get to see each other that often,” Hart added. “It’s great when these kinds of events bring us back together to share some time. We’re really excited and I’m going to enjoy the whole weekend.”

Hart rightfully is excited about getting into the Georgia Aquatic Hall of Fame, a nonprofit, with the mission statement “to preserve the history of Aquatics in Georgia and to celebrate Georgians who have excelled in Aquatic sports.” While deserving to be included alongside the first two prestigious classes, which include former Yellow Jacket swimmer and longtime head swimming coach Herb McAuley, and legendary UGA swim coach Jack Bauerle, Hart remains humble.

“Words can’t describe what this sport of swimming has given me so to be recognized for what I was able to do is just amazing,” she said. “People like Jack Bauerle, who was my coach at Georgia for four years and then again through my post-graduate training, helped shape my career and shape my path into coaching, which has led me to Georgia Tech. So it all kind of comes together full-circle, which is pretty cool.”

There really was only one part of her induction that colored her judgement and that she needed to address. Being recognized by the Hall for heroics as a University of Georgia swimmer while currently Georgia Tech’s Swimming and Diving Coach meant being aware of what colors to don. Fortunately, she found a way to skirt the issue.

“I’ll try to remain as neutral as possible,” she said, with a laugh. “It’s funny because that is something that you have to think about a little bit. So I’m going with a deep purple dress and have black as a backup.”

Tomorrow night’s induction will not be the first hall of fame induction for Hart. The Columbia, S.C., native has also been immortalized by her home state’s Athletic Hall of Fame, in 2010, and the University of Georgia Circle of Honor in 2012 — but she expects the ceremony to be as special and unique as the first two.

“They’ve all been very, very special to me,” she said. “It never gets old hat because they all mean different things that are very special to me in different ways. It’s so much fun and they all were in different parts of my life. So to be able to thank everybody who supported me and helped me get to where I am means a lot to me.”

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