A Swimming Family: Meet the Six Sweeney Siblings to Swim at Power 5 College Programs

Sweeney Family Oly Trials 2016
The Sweeney family at 2016 Olympic Trials, where Devan and Aidan competed Photo Courtesy: Sweeney Family

The Sweeney family car would pull up to the pool for the afternoon, and the carousel would start spinning.

Out went the older kids, Allyson and Conor and Aidan, to practice. While they swam, the younger kids sat in the car with mom Patty, doing homework or eating dinner, until it was their turn to practice. Then the whole operation would rotate, swimsuits on for the younger group, textbooks and snacks in hand for the older kids, the car like a Russian nesting doll that would keep disgorging smaller and smaller Sweeneys. Whether it was learn-to-swim classes or high school practice, the basic choreography stayed the same for more than a decade, through seven siblings.

“I literally grew up around the pool,” Tegan Sweeney said. “That was my playground, that’s where I learned how to read, where I did all my schoolwork. All the big milestones of my life have been around the pool.”

Tegan Devan

Tegan Sweeney, left, and Devan Sweeney at the 2017 GHSA state meet with Brookwood High; Photo Courtesy: Sweeney Family

The Sweeneys have made the pool their playground on the way to distinguished careers. The youngest, Reagan, is about to graduate from Brookwood High School in suburban Atlanta. She’s the seventh Sweeney to contribute to that school’s powerhouse program. The LSU signee is also the sixth member of the family to swim for a major college program, stretching back to when the oldest, Allyson, enrolled at Texas A&M in 2009. It’s come full circle to the point of Allyson being an assistant coach at the University of North Carolina, having the chance to coach against her siblings.

Through their upbringing, swimming was a common ground to connect across the span of years.

“When I was swimming and going to meets, they were the kids that were running around up in the stands or at championship meets, they’d be running around in the rafters and you’d hear on the PA, ‘Mrs. Sweeney, can you come get your kids?’,” Allyson said. “And a lot of teammates that I swam with at Texas A&M, they remember my younger sisters.”

The birth of a swimming family

The full sweep of the Sweeney family is a lot to track. It includes several moves across the country in their youth, following the career of their father John Sweeney, the chair of surgery at Emory University’s School of Medicine. But here goes:

  • Allyson Sweeney graduated Brookwood in 2009, the family moving to Georgia when she was a junior. A mid-distance freestyler, she swam at Texas A&M.
  • Conor Sweeney graduated in 2010. A mid-distance freestyler and IMer, he swam at the University of Georgia.
  • Aidan Sweeney is the distance specialist of the family, maxing out at the mile and 400 individual medley. He joined Conor at Georgia in the fall of 2012 before finishing at Notre Dame.
  • Devan Sweeney graduated high school in 2017. She originally attended Missouri before transferring to Auburn. A fly and IM specialist, Sweeney finished 29th at the 2021 NCAA Championships in the 400 IM. She and Aidan both swam at Olympic Trials in 2016.
  • Tegan Sweeney is a junior walk-on at Notre Dame, specializing in mid-distance freestyle and the 200 butterfly.
  • The youngest is Reagan Sweeney, another 200 fly specialist and IMer, who’ll start at LSU in the fall.

In between is Keenan Sweeney, a 2014 high school graduate and a strong sprinter in his own right. Clearly the black sheep of the family, he underachieved in the swimming realm by becoming a football walk-on at Auburn as a fullback, earning a scholarship as a junior and grad-transferring to Notre Dame. (John was a fullback at Notre Dame in the 1980s.)

It’s quite the legacy, all of which started with basic water safety. Patty Sweeney, the family matriarch, is a South Florida native, growing up surrounded by bodies of water. Swimming ran in her family, with two brothers, Jim Cooney (Notre Dame) and John Cooney (Yale), competing in college. As the eighth of nine kids, Patty didn’t take part in many organized sports. But she’s the dark horse in the conversation about the family’s best athlete.

Devan Aidan Oly Trials 2016

Aidan Sweeney, left, and Devan Sweeney at 2016 Olympics Trials; Photo Courtesy: Sweeney Family

“She likes to joke that by the time she was born, her parents were done with that kind of thing,” Allyson said. “She did not play sports, but she’s probably the most athletic out of our family, if I’m honest. … My mom’s kind of a badass.”

The family moved to Michigan when Allyson was four, again to accommodate John’s career. That’s when swimming started in earnest. Soon enough, Allyson fell in love with the sport, setting the path for her younger siblings, who, first for convenience, followed suit.

“I remember my first practice being the worst thing ever,” Allyson said. “But sure enough, I kind of took to it and fell in love with it a little bit. And we turned around the next summer and my brother (Conor) joined.”

Each sibling has some version of the same story: Of swimming by default, of initial disdain but of sticking with the sport of their own volition.

“When I first started swimming, I was not very good at training,” Tegan said. “I was the kid pushing off the bottom of the pool, playing mermaid instead of practicing. But when we’d do something for time, I would get my head in the game and actually race.”

“When I first started to swim, I absolutely hated it,” Reagan said. “I did not want to do it. My mom forced me to go to lessons and everything like that. But once I started getting into it, I loved the sport. I definitely have connected my love for swimming with my family. I definitely wanted to be a swimmer.”

The family moved to the Houston area, swimming at First Colony Swim Team, before shifting to Austin and Longhorn Aquatic with Eddie Reese. Allyson and Conor were in high school when the family settled in Georgia, joining Swim Atlanta under the guidance of Chris Davis. Allyson credits that move with revitalizing her career.

“I had gotten to a point where I knew I was pretty talented within the sport but I had gotten a little lost, so (Davis) helped re-center me and ground me and give me that confidence again,” she said. “… He helped me to grow personally in my confidence within the sport.”

“For everyone in our family, it ended up energizing our careers,” Conor said. “Aidan started getting better. Tegan started taking the sport seriously. … It took me about a year to adjust to Atlanta. I did not like the transition. I wished I was back in Austin. It took me about a year to adjust and thankfully I did. It taught me a lot of lessons.”

A high school dynasty

Jack Gayle has seen both sides of the Sweeney dominance.

A graduate of Parkview High, Gayle coached at his alma mater for 11 years starting in 2004. He coached against a period of Sweeney-driven Brookwood dominance that led to state runner-up finishes for the girls in 2008 and 2009 with Allyson and boys titles from 2008-10 with Aidan and Conor. (Brookwood’s most famous swimming product, Amanda Weir, graduated in 2004.) Gayle’s wife taught at Brookwood, so he had even more insight to the Sweeney juggernaut.

Tegan Reagan HS State

Tegan Sweeney, left, and Reagan Sweeney with the 2018 Georgia High School Association Championship; Photo Courtesy: Sweeney Family

So when he was offered the Brookwood coaching job in 2017 and a chance to work with instead of against the Sweeneys, he jumped at it.

“Being an opponent of theirs in the early years, it was frustrating because they’re presenting a unified front,” Gayle said. “They’re not competing against each other; they’re more trying to figure out how to be the most effective in their goals against whoever they’re swimming. Competing against them is difficult because they’re covering the events so effectively. They all have their unique strengths.”

Gayle coached the youngest trio of girls, yielding state titles in 2018 (with Tegan as a senior and Reagan as a sophomore) and 2019.

In the realm of family bragging rights, the ability to swim with each other reigns. Conor and Aidan, for instance, were teammates in high school and college; they also lived together for three years after college. (Conor now works in real estate in Atlanta; Aidan is a resident physician at Emory.) Reagan is “so excited” at the prospect of swimming against Devan in the SEC next year. Birth bestowed prime placement on Tegan, ensuring she always had a sibling to swim with.

“Nothing beats that. It’s always so fun,” she said. “I was always on relays with both of them, and neither one of them got to be on relay with each other but I got lucky because I’m the middle one. I got to be on relays with both of them and both of them are so talented, I just feel so lucky.”

The desire to compete for each other provides Gayle one of his most profound Sweeney memories. He knew the Brookwood girls had a shot at the 2018 state title if things broke right. Tegan led the way with a tremendous prelims, and she and Reagan capped it by winning the 400 free relay, one in which they just needed just to finish safely but, with Reagan as the instigator, they won anyway.

When the meet ended, Gayle said of Tegan, “I’ve never seen a kid crash so hard in my entire life than when she was riding home on the bus after that meet. She literally went from being on that high to being in the hospital, on her butt for days.” He has no doubt that swimming for family kept her going.

The younger Sweeneys have grown to appreciate the weight of that legacy. As the baby of the family, Reagan initially was hesitant, wanting to be her own person. But she’s come to see her inheritance as a “blessing.”

“Being able to have people come up to me and say, ‘oh you’re the youngest of this family? Wow that’s crazy.’ It’s such an honor to be part of that,” she said. “Without my older siblings, I wouldn’t be where am I today and without their help, I wouldn’t be given these opportunities. …

“I used to get annoyed by it, like ‘No I’m Reagan, leave me alone.’ It’s so cool to talk to people that have known my siblings from different parts of their lives and I get to see different aspects of where they’ve gone with their life and their achievements.”

A sister first, a coach second

As the oldest, Allyson has always served as a resource, particularly for three sisters eight or more years her junior. But that has taken on new dimensions in her coaching career.

Allyson HS State

Allyson Sweeney at the 2009 GHSA meet; Photo Courtesy: Sweeney Family

Allyson started coaching at her roots, leading age-groupers at Swim Atlanta, though at a different location than where Reagan trained. She was an assistant at Florida Southern and a volunteer assistant at Auburn (before Devan transferred in) ahead of the UNC assistant job.

When it comes time to talk about swimming with her sisters – and they chat regularly, for hours at a time – the line is clear: It’s as sisters first, swimmers second. Swimming is an important glue between the generations; Reagan was six, for instance, when Allyson went to college. Allyson usually defers to her sisters. If one of them wants to talk swimming, she’s all ears. But she leaves it to them to broach the subject.

“I try to be very mindful of our relationship in that regard in the same way, and then obviously when they ask for my advice, I’ll give it to them,” she said. “But it also helps when they’re explaining what’s going in their daily lives, it helps to talk to someone who understands and gets it.”

That dynamic was especially useful during Reagan’s recruitment. With the benefit of dozens of college visits for siblings’ meets, she didn’t miss the campus visits eliminated by the COVID-19 pandemic as much as others might have. Reagan didn’t set out to blaze her own trail, and she looked at both Auburn and Notre Dame, with the possibility of reuniting with a sister.

Ultimately, LSU “was where my heart told me to go,” she said. And while Allyson didn’t have a direct role, she was in the background as a sounding board. It’s what she’s done throughout her sisters’ careers, whether helping them navigate school or simple things like seeking out a trainer for an injury, she’s there whenever called upon.

“I always tell her, I owe everything to you,” Reagan said. “I wouldn’t be able to be where I am today without Allyson.”

That kind of connection endures throughout the seven Sweeneys.

“Devan and I say this all the time now that it’s just three of us swimming, it’s definitely our family that keeps us in the sport,” Tegan said. “Having siblings that can just support you and understand what you’re going through and persevere through those moments, it’s been really helpful and helped me amount to what I’ve been able to do today.”

‘There was no trash talking ever’

The Sweeneys found themselves at a pool last summer when their competitiveness crept out.

Devan Tegan Reagan

The three youngest Sweeneys, Reagan, Devan and Tegan, after a workout; Photo Courtesy: Sweeney Family

The youngest three were training long-course. But when work was done, the inner children came out to play. What started as a contest to see which of Devan and Tegan could swim the longest underwater soon got serious, the girls edging a little further each time.

But then Keenan raised his hand to try. Then Aidan hopped in and … well, you see where this is going. (For the record, Aidan, who now competes in Ironmans but hasn’t been training, covered the 50 meters the first time, much to his siblings’ eye-rolling.)

The good nature of the competition is the same as ever. It was a big deal in the Sweeney swimming canon when Conor and Aidan, ages 10 and 8, took each other on in their first 200 fly long-course, though they were all smiles after. With Keenan as a sprinter, the boys’ specialties soon diverged enough – Conor paints it as Aidan getting good at distance events Conor didn’t want to swim – that there they avoided each other. Allyson calls it a “quiet competitiveness” that ties them together, though Aidan and Devan sometimes express the “hypercompetitive” gene. It’s instructive that Tegan paints her sisters as “built-in training buddies” over anything else.

“When we were younger, it was more about how we placed in our age groups at state,” Conor said. “It was never competitive in a way, like I wanted to beat him. It was more of a positive competitiveness. … There was no trash talking ever.”

Conor Aidan UGA

Conor Sweeney, left, an Aidan Sweeney in their days at the University of Georgia; Photo Courtesy: Sweeney Family

So when it comes time to ask the question that is begging to be posed – seven lanes, seven Sweeneys, who wins? – the answers aren’t exactly bulletin-board material.

  • Allyson: “If it’s a sprint race and you put me up against my sisters, hands down, I’m going to say it’s me. Although if it’s the 100 fly, I think Devan technically is faster than my fastest time, but I feel like I could go toe-to-toe in it.”
  • Tegan: “My money would be on Aidan, just because he’s always been the go-getter. They called him “the Machine” in high school; you wind him up and he can just go. … If it’s butterfly, I think it would be really close between Devan and Reagan.”
  • Conor: “The longer the race goes, Aidan is going to win. If it’s anything over a 500, Aidan’s going to win. But anything under that, if it’s freestyle, I’m going to win, no questions asked.”
  • Reagan: “I hope someone says me.”

The dynamic is always constructive, building each other up, devoid of animosity. In asking the question, you can almost hear them cracking through the wall of cognitive dissonance in pondering having to root against a sibling.

To say that mentality is why all seven have had such success undercuts their natural talent and dogged work ethic. But it surely plays a role in reaching the heights they have.

“They’re so supportive of each other and they take so much pride in their accomplishments and in each other’s contributions to what they’re doing,” Gayle, the Brookwood coach, said. “They’re so enthusiastic about their performances because obviously they know swimming very well because it’s a swimming family, so they know what their goals are when they’re going after it. But they also know what they’re capable of and they know they need encouragement.”

“I think in the beginning, it was just having Allyson, Conor, Aidan being so ahead in the swimming world and breaking records and winning state championships, it was honestly inspiring and motivating,” Tegan said. “It always kind of makes you work harder.”

UGA Senior Day

The Sweeney siblings, with mom Patty and dad John, at Conor’s senior day at Georgia in 2015Photo Courtesy: Sweeney Family

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Celeste

    What an amazing family! Congratulations to you all! (and Mom & Dad especially!)

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