Anita Nall is 15, and talks of her first prom, her last report card and her next birthday.
She is a kid from Towson who likes to hang out at a mall with her friends. She is a star who plows through an interview schedule that would test even the voice of Ross Perot.
This weekend, she'll appear in the North Baltimore Aquatic Club invitational swim meet at the Meadowbrook pool in Mount Washington. Next month, she'll be in Barcelona, Spain, a young woman reaching for a swimming gold medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics.
Ever since she set the world record in the women's 200-meter breast stroke, and earned a place on the U.S. team in March, Nall has been the subject of an intense, unorchestrated publicity campaign. Her youth, personality and ability have lured reporters to Baltimore from across the United States, Europe and Asia.
This morning, she'll do a live interview on "Today." Upcoming, are major profiles in several national publications, ranging from The New York Times to Little Mermaid Magazine.
"I don't think I could name all of them for you," Nall said yesterday. "It's fun to do. It's something that comes with what I've done. It doesn't affect me much. The only thing [that] does is the time management."
She is trying to squeeze life as a public figure into a daily schedule that includes rigorous two-a-day workouts. One day, she is in New York, completing a photo shoot for The Gap. The next, she is in the pool for six hours, refining her stroke.
Forty-three days to the opening of the Olympics, and Nall is in the best shape of her career, favored to win the women's 200, an outside medal contender in the 100.
Remarkably, she remains unaffected, talking about her favorite troll doll, looking forward to her 16th birthday next month, saying the word "neat" 35 times in a 30-minute interview. She hasn't lost her touch in the pool, either, winning both the 100 and 200 breast-stroke events at last month's Alamo Invitational in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The only downside to fame is her report card. An honor's student last semester, Nall slumped to a B average to close out her sophomore year at Towson Catholic.
"Anita has not let any of this affect her," said Nall's 21-year-old sister, Jennifer. "We won't let her. She has support at home. I don't think any kid, with the right perspective, would be changed by this."
Still, the family's home life has been disrupted by constant intrusions. NBC-TV, the American broadcast network of the Games, recently set up in the Nalls' Towson town house for two days.
"They didn't want to leave," Jennifer Nall said. "They saw everything. Anita's room. Not a very nice sight. Dinner. Well, not a very nice sight."
Nall still has time for kid stuff. "The Silence of the Lambs" remains her favorite movie. Last March, she had seen it 10 times. Now, it's 13and counting.
"My mom keeps saying, 'I can't believe you're watching this. Turn it off,' " she said.
She attended the Loyola High School prom last week, accompanied by one of her training partners.
"Just a good friend," she said.
And the dress? A black velvet number, a hand-me-down from Jennifer. Seems Anita didn't have time to shop for a new one.
The Nalls have been forced to cut corners financially in recent months, trying to come up with the $15,000 to ensure the family of five can attend the Olympics.
A $1 Barcelona Bound raffle has been established at the Meadowbrook pool. Paul Levine, a local artist, drew a limited-edition sketch of Nall, which will be available June 28 at the Towsontown Mall. Proceeds will benefit the family.
But John Nall said the family has received donations from individuals and organizations in the Towson area.
"You don't expect that kind of stuff," he said. "We're receiving not only financial, but spiritual support. People from around the area feel a part of all of this. It gives us energy. I know it gives Anita energy."
Fan mail also encourages Nall, who has received hundreds of letters from children.
"Some little boys tell me they love me," she said. "One underlined the word 'please' 16 times, to have me send a reply."
And then, there was the letter from a 9-year-old girl who wrote, "P.S., I'll send you money next time." Nall immediately replied, thanked the girl, and completed the note, "P.S., You don't need to send me money."
/# The kid is ready for Barcelona.