By David Willis
Four years ago, Maggie D'Innocenzo watched the U.S. Olympic swimming Trials from her Andover home, in awe of her brother Nick D'Innocenzo, the Massachusetts swimming legend who was competing in the trials.
"I would just snuggle up in a blanket in front of the TV or computer and watch every race every day," said Maggie. "I thought Nick was a rock star. It was so crazy to see him there. I was just stunned.
"I told myself that, if I worked really, really hard maybe I could do that in four years. I told myself, 'I'm going to be like my brother. I'm going to do it!'"
Fast forward to 2012, and the Andover High senior-to-be wasn't just a fan of this year's trials.
This summer, Maggie joined older brother Nick as both competed in the Olympic Trials earlier this month in Omaha, Neb.
"It was great to be there with Maggie," said Nick, now a star at the University of Texas. "She has dreamed of this since 2008. I couldn't be more proud of her."
Following the greatness of Nick is nothing new for Maggie.
She was her brother's biggest fan as Nick built an unprecedented legacy while swimming for Andover High, earning All-Scholastic honors all four seasons (2006-09) while earning Division 1 Swimmer of the Year the latter three seasons and rewriting the state record book.
"My brother and I are exactly four years apart and everything (in swimming) happens every four years," said Maggie. "So I have always dreamed of doing what Nick has accomplished."
Through three high school seasons, Maggie's accomplishments have looked much the same as her brother's. She has also been named All-Scholastic three times, including 2011 co-Swimmer of the Year, and has won numerous state titles.
But her true dream came true when she qualified for the 2012 Olympic Trials.
"She made the cuts way in advance," said Nick. "I spent years trying to make the cuts months before the deadlines, and she did it like two years in advance. You could just see the same giddy feeling I had four years ago, but she was just a little better. It was really cool to be going again and have her with me.
"We had the whole family down there. My mother and father, my grandmother and even my aunt who had never been to a swim meet in her life was loving it."
It didn't take long for Maggie D'Innocenzo to be wowed by the experience of the Trials.
"The minute we walked in I looked around the pool and said, 'Oh my God, this pool is so big!'" she remembered. "Then someone said, 'That's just the warmup pool.' When I walked into the real pool I couldn't believe it. It was like being at the (Boston) Garden. I felt like a superstar."
While the biggest names in Olympic swimming were walking past her, Maggie was calmed by the sight of a familiar face.
"I walk in and I'm just start struck by Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte walking past me," said Maggie. "And then I just see Nick walk by. It made things a little less scary to have him there with me, cheering me on."
What dazzled the younger D'Innocenzo the most was the scale of the event.
"I have never seen anything like it," said Maggie. "To be in the atmosphere of Olympians was something special.
"I got to my parents' seats and you hear this cheering. They had spotlights and music, then all of a sudden flames started shooting out of the sides of the pool. There were pyrotechnics. I was thinking, 'This is a swim meet? This is what happens at Red Sox games.' They just don't have this at swim meets."
While his sister was wowed by the moment, Nick D'Innocenzo found his second trip to the Trials considerably more relaxing.
"It was just as exciting as four years ago," said Nick. "Last time I was basically all alone with my club team (Crimson Aquatic). This time I was here with about 20 or so guys from Texas, which made it a lot more fun. I was excited, but I didn't have the same overwhelmed feeling."
D'Innocenzo is now heading into his senior season at powerhouse University of Texas. He repeated as Big 12 Meet MVP in the spring after winning the 200 breaststroke, 400 IM and 200 IM.
"Swimming is going great," said D'Innocenzo, currently on campus training. "I'm excited to be a senior and feel like I am in good position for a big year. I have the U.S. Open in August and I'm looking forward to that. I'm excited to be a leader. After that, I'm not sure what I will do. But I've seen people try to give up swimming and it doesn't look easy."
While they may be four years apart, the D'Innocenzo siblings bond over their love of swimming.
"Nick is my swimming buddy," said Maggie. "We bounce ideas off of each other. He's the swim expert, so I'll ask him questions like, 'They are talking about this new breaststroke form, what do you think?"
Nick, the former top high school recruit in the country, has also be indispensable as Maggie works through the challenges of the college swimming recruiting process.
"I started to get really overwhelmed by the whole process," said Maggie, who said she has narrowed her choices to North Carolina, Florida, Southern California and Texas.
"I asked Nick, 'How did you do this?' He really talked me through it and did a great job. Now I get to go on recruiting trips and make my decision."
While Nick isn't pushing his sister in any direction, he has certainly taking a shine to Texas.
"Austin's a great town," said Nick, with much more of a southern accent than he had in his Andover days. "I've started saying, 'Back home in Austin instead of Boston. I've loved my time here and, depending on how things work out, I may stay after I graduate."
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