June 2022 ~
“Swim team tryouts at the MAC.”
Lauren Thies (Lincoln, 1997) remembers getting the notification letter when she was 7 of 8 years old.
Her parents, Multnomah Athletic Club members who grew up surfing in California, liked the idea.
And, Lauren wasn’t into other sports.
“I was tall for a young girl and not that coordinated,” she says.
She tried out and made the team – and then made lots of other teams over the next 20 years.
Thies would go on to compete often and on four continents for USA Swimming, starting at age 14.
“I guess I had a knack for it,” she says.
The Portland native started winning age 10-12 state swim titles while at Chapman Elementary and West Sylvan Middle School.
She always liked being part of a team.
“I just remember making friends, with girls and boys,” she says. “Although I don’t think the boys particularly enjoyed it when I beat them.”
By the time she was 13, she was competing for the MAC’s senior squad against 15- to 17-year-olds.
Her resume includes national titles in the 100-meter butterfly, 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle in the 18-and-under junior nationals at Fargo, North Dakota when she was 14.
At 15, she captured her first senior nationals titles, winning the 100 and 200 freestyle, and she went to Paris to swim for the U.S. national junior team.
At 17, she competed in Sicily on the World University Games team as its youngest member.
She also squeezed in an illustrious high school career for Lincoln. She won five state titles and set various records, including state-meet records in the 200 and 500 free (the 500 mark still stands). She led the Cardinals, coached by Doug Morten, to three PIL crowns and two second-place team finishes at state before graduating in 1997.
“The relays with your friends were always highlights for me,” she says. “And the dual meets were so fun and great preparation for college dual meets.”
She took off her junior season at Lincoln to train in Indianapolis for the Olympic Trials, just missing out on a spot to swim the 200 free or on a relay team.
In 2016, she was inducted into the PIL Hall of Fame.
“It was fantastic,” she says of her years at Lincoln. “I feel really fortunate to have gone to such a great school.”
Thies was ranked as the nation’s No. 1 scholar-athlete and took quite a few International Baccalaureate classes.
“I have so many good memories,” she says. “The hallways at Lincoln. The teachers, mentors and experiences.”
With international swimming experience through the MAC since age 15, she already had met collegiate swimmers, including some at Stanford, her next stop.
“I liked it. It went by very quickly,” she says of college swimming. “It was demanding, and that’s probably true for any female athlete at the Division-I level. Your time management has to be spot on.
“And, coming in knowing Stanford had won many national championships already, the expectations were pretty strong.”
Thies anchored Stanford’s national championship 4×200 freestyle relay team as a freshman (1997-98) as the Cardinal claimed the team title.
She swam a variety of other events, especially the 200 and 500 freestyle and the 400 individual medley. She was a three-time All-American that season.
The 200 freestyle was her best and favorite event through the years.
“It’s always been my baby,” she says. “It’s very similar to the 800 in track – it’s a controlled sprint.”
A back injury forced her to redshirt her second year of what turned out to be an up-and-down college run.
She picked up the fourth of her eventual six All-American honors in 1999-2000 and competed in another Olympic Trials in 2000.
She used her final year of college eligibility to swim for Texas, where she was team captain on a league championship team.
“It was like a rebirth of my career, and I got my lifetime bests and really enjoyed the swimming and the culture,” she says.
In hindsight, and in regard to dealing with her back and other injuries, “there are a lot more studies now on the post-adolescent body and how to take care of it, and also the psychological factors,” she says.
At 23, she “retired” from swimming and started a career. She moved back to Oregon about a year later and worked at a law firm while coaching for the Hillsboro HEAT swim team.
One day, the kids she was working with coaxed her back into the water. And the bug returned.
“It happened completely accidentally,” she says.
Soon she was swimming full-time again and working with her old MAC coach, Skip Runkle.
Amazingly, at age 27, she registered new lifetime bests in three events and won two 2007 national titles (100 and 200 freestyles). She beat various teenagers and swimmers just out of college.
“That was wild,” she says.
She also had qualified for the Pan-American Games in Rio de Janeiro, “and people said, ‘Of course you’re going to try out for the Olympics again,’” she says.
She could have, “but I was like, no, I’m good.”
She’d already been running a bit in her spare time and doing triathlons, and she had other things she wanted to do in life.
The years and years of swim training and competitions “gave me more than I could have ever asked for,” she says. “It taught me a lot about adversity and working toward a goal and not giving up. I had the chance to work with top coaches, make close friends, and I’ve always enjoyed traveling, and through swimming I was able to go to Italy, France, Australia and Brazil.”
Thies has given back. She coached for Lincoln (2004-06) and Lake Oswego high schools and has worked with different clubs in the Portland and Salem areas.
Now the history major has gone back to one of her other passions – fashion and apparel. She has her own business re-selling vintage to Y2K men’s and women’s apparel and accessories on five different internet platforms.
You can find her on Instagram (laurlaur7), Poshmark (@denim_patent), and with the app “Depop/Buy & Sell Clothing.”
In her mid-30s, she started cycling, joining a weekend club that does longer rides, and she did a Cycle Oregon. She’s done a half-Ironman and also likes to hike and play a little basketball, and she continues to practice yoga, something she started while in college. She hopes to get more into golf this summer.
Masters Swimming is a possibility, “but right now my business is my main focus.
“I do follow swimming, though. It’s really exciting watching the teenagers. It just seems like kids are getting younger and younger and posting faster times.”
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~ Profile written by Steve Brandon (Cleveland, 1972)