SWIMNEWS ONLINE: January 1997 Magazine Articles

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Cecil M. Colwin

Julia Russell, 21, and Penny Heyns, 22, are long-time friends, rivals, and training partners. They met at the age of twelve, when the two girls first competed against each other. Julia said "At the time, I didn't know Penny well. It was just from seeing her at the pool and noting her improvement."

Penny helped to recruit Julia to Nebraska in January, 1994, and it was there that their friendship developed. Julia trained with assistant coach Jan Bidrman, and had Penny as her training partner. Julia says "I think it was good for both of us to work off each other. Penny is really good at swimming all-out with 100% effort."

Penny Heyns and Julia Russell, rivals and training partners
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Cecil Colwin

Did Julia have trouble keeping up with Penny? Penny herself quickly supplied the answer "I think Julia handles the workout better, because she knows how to pace herself."

According to Julia, "I'm probably more experienced at the workout, so it's not a problem. It's just that it helps me to see where I am, because I was so used to working out, and doing these types of sets, and this helped Penny.

"They are just so friendly over there. They are always willing to help you out, and the big thing, at that stage, was that there were a lot of South Africans on the team, so it was kind of like being at home.

"From early on, I knew that this was exactly where I wanted to be, and I clicked with Jan's workout. Change is always good, and I started to swim really well."

Julia, now an All-American star, is Nebraska's highest point scorer ever at the NCAA championships. She finished 12th in the Olympic 200 breaststroke (2:30.38), and recently broke Penny's 50 yard university breaststroke record. The two women finished 1-2 in both breaststroke events in the Big Eight Conference Championships in Oklahoma City.


On Head Coach Cal Bentz:

"Cal Bentz, our Head Coach, has so many great qualities," says Julia. "You don't know where to start. He's a coach, but he's also more than your friend; he's like your family. He is always there to encourage you, if you need it, or to instruct you if you need it. He knows exactly what you want, or what you need, and he knows everyone on such an individual basis, and that is remarkable. He's definitely a `people person.'

Penny said, "Coach Bentz seems to have a soft spot for foreigners, but also it seems especially for guys who are a little unsettledI won't say `delinquent,' not quite that badbut people who may have had a bit of trouble. He's always has a soft spot. He's always helping out someone like that. It's sort of hard to define whether he's the grandfather or the father of all of us."

Julia agrees. "He believes that everyone should have a second chance, and I think that's why he helps people like that to get back on their feet, and to make the best of themselves."

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