Practice is the easy part for Malandra

Parkland (Allentown, Pa.) senior Jaime Malandra's lungs burn. Her heart pounds. Every muscle in her body aches. But there's no time to stop.

"One more lap," the Parkland senior says to herself. "Just
one more."

Malandra has been swimming for more than an hour. She's done too many laps to count. No breaks. No slowing down. She feels nothing except pain and fatigue.

"One more lap. Just one more."

As she makes her final turn, Malandra can envision her body
plopping onto her soft bed at home. Her head resting on a pillow. Her eyes shutting for a long night's sleep.

It's 7 a.m.

"One more lap. Just one more."

When Malandra finally hits the finish line, her body is completely drained. Her chest pounds as she gasps for air. Finally, her morning
workout is over. But the thought of going to sleep is just a pipe dream.

Instead, it's time for school.

Starting her day with a grueling 5,000-meter training session
(that's more than three miles) may sound like a nightmare, but it's
what has helped Malandra become one of the nation's best
long-distance swimmers.

"Swimming is a very physically demanding sport," she says. "When the body starts to hurt, that's when the mind starts to waver. That's when you really have to put your trust into it. You need hard times."

With practices like that, Malandra has endured plenty of hard times in the pool. But when it comes to competition, it's all smooth sailing for the two-time Class AAA state champion in both the 200 and 500 freestyle. She broke the state record in each event as a junior, finishing the 200 in 1:48.18 and the 500 in 4:48.43.

Pretty remarkable for someone who only started swimming competitively at age 12.

"I'm blessed," she says. "I think I do have natural talent, which I'm very lucky to have. There are a lot of people who work as hard as me who don't get to experience what I've been blessed to experience."

Malandra Favorites

Clothing Line: Wet Seal
Video Game: Frogger
Sports Team: 76ers
Food: Peanut Butter and Jelly

The one thing Malandra has left to experience is the one thing she desires the most -- competing at the Olympic Trials for a shot at the Olympics. She missed qualifying for the 2008 Trials in the 500 by just 0.16 seconds.
Luckily, she's young enough to get another shot.

"In 2012, maybe I can make the top eight and have a chance to compete and be in the Olympics," Malandra says. "I have a long way to go. That's a very high goal, but it's something to work toward."

Helping her along the way thus far has been Erik Posegay, who coaches Malandra at both Parkland and the Parkland Aquatic Club. The two have been together almost every day for the past four years and have formed an extremely close bond. One that goes beyond the pool.

"I view my coach as part of my family," Malandra says. "He doesn't help me with just swimming but with a lot of things with life in general. Whatever he tells me I know is possible. I owe everything to him."

Posegay also owes a lot to Malandra and the rest of her
teammates. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in October of 2007 and used his commitment to his students as motivation. Not only did Posegay not miss a single practice while undergoing four cycles of chemotherapy, he also made sure to retain his intense coaching style on the sidelines.

"What kept me going is the kids," says Posegay, who has been in remission since February. "Cancer affected me, but I didn't want it to affect the kids because they had put so much work into it. It was never an option not doing my job.

"It was a lot," he adds. "My doctors told me by the third cycle that I should be taking time off. I was dragging by the end. I pushed it as far as I could push it."

Malandra knew Posegay was suffering and used his fight with cancer to fuel herself in the pool.

"That was probably one of the most motivating things for me and my team," Malandra says. "You could tell how drained he was. We just had to work harder for him."

That meant waking up at 5 a.m. daily last year to go to her first practice,
swimming almost 16,000 meters per day, hitting the weight room and not taking a day off for months on end. It also meant waking up sore every day, missing birthday parties and family gatherings, and even dozing off in class sometimes as a result of the early mornings and long days.

"We were joking that we can't volunteer in class because we don't want to lift our arms up because it hurt," Malandra says.

Despite missing a question or two because of sleep, Malandra remains a top-tier student-athlete. She was deciding between swimming powers North Carolina, USC, Virginia, Tennessee and Penn State as of press time.

"The main thing is I really want to enjoy and embrace every moment of it," she says of swimming in college. "I want to bond with the team and help the team out in whatever their season goals are."

Malandra will certainly help whatever school she ends up swimming for. After all, Posegay calls her one of the best teammates he's ever seen.

"My team is the most important thing to me in swimming," says Malandra, who prefers relays to solo events. "I have 15 other people here with me, and I would be nothing without them."

Of course, Malandra is talented enough that she'd still be a great competitor without a team to swim for -- just a little lonelier during those early-morning marathons.

That's when she needs support the most. Malandra likes to look over and see her friends cheering her on. She gets especially inspired when she notices her coaches urging her to push harder.

Out of breath, legs tingling and arms in pain, Malandra
concentrates on one thing.

"One more lap. Just one more."

Brian A. Giuffra covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.