Bill Ripol has been making waves nearly all his life, although you'd never know it by his shy demeanor.

In less than two weeks, the 19-year-old from Manassas will be at the Olympic swim team tryouts in Austin, Tex., competing for an invitation to Seoul, where the 24th summer Olympic Games begin Sept. 17.

Plans are afoot to designate Aug. 9, the day Ripol tries out at the University of Texas campus in Austin, as Bill Ripol Day in Manassas. Quite an honor, most would think. But hoopla makes Ripol uneasy.

"I don't handle it real well," he said. "I really haven't done anything yet."

The facts tell another story. Ripol, a University of Virginia student who is world- and nationally ranked in swimming, topped the Atlant Coast Conference this year in the 400-meter individual medley, which comprises the breast, back, freestyle and butterfly strokes.

He also placed first in three events at the Virginia State Senior Championships.

"You wouldn't know by his disposition that he is as good a swimmer as he is," said Don Regenbogen, Ripol's coach since 1981 on the Quantico Devil Dolphins, a competitive swim team. "He's humble."

The man who got Ripol interested in swimming agrees. "He is so low-key and down to earth," said Dennis Miller, coach of the Sudley Club swim team.

But there is more to Ripol's 6-foot-1 frame than meets the eye.

"The thing that has set Bill apart from any other athlete that I have ever coached is his mental tenacity. He is so mentally tough," Miller said. "He's been that way since an early age."

Ripol proved his toughness when, at age 16, he was critically injured in an automobile accident in which his sister, Anne, died.

"He was upside down in the car a couple of hours and all the blood went to his brain," said his mother, Susan Ripol. "He broke his collarbone and was in intensive care for 14 days . . . . He could have lost his intensity."

But he didn't, and as a result "he will be an inspiration 20 years from now," Miller believes. "He has worked tremendously hard and overcome a tremendous amount of adversity."

In many ways, Ripol's story mirrors the familiar tale of Olympic hopefuls: long hours of training and sacrifice over a career that has already spanned 12 years.

While attending Osbourn High School, "he would have to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning so he could be at Quantico for 5:30-to-7 practice," Miller said. Then "he would go back at 3:30 or 4 p.m. and practice two more hours."

This summer, Ripol has been swimming about 8,000 meters nearly every morning, and 4,000 to 6,000 meters each afternoon.

When he's not in the water, he lifts weights.

"It's hard work," said Ripol, a rising junior at U-Va. in Charlottesville, where he is studying psychology on a full athletic scholarship.

"This is like my job; a lot of time I feel tired out. I go through the day tired."

Ripol says he enjoys competition, something that will not be lacking in Austin, where 40 swimmers are vying for the two spots available on the men's 400-meter individual medley team.

Ripol, who in March was ranked 17th in the country in that event, knows he has a difficult task ahead.

His strategy is to shoot for the final eight, he said.

"Then anything can happen. It's a pressure-packed meet. It's going to be fun. I've been working hard. I know I am going to do well.

"It would be good to swim for your country, to represent everybody," said Ripol, who will be joined at the tryouts by Stafford County's Jeff Rouse, a world-class swimmer who excels in the backstroke, individual medley and butterfly.

Miller has been rallying the community behind Ripol, in part because of the work Ripol has done teaching young swimmers at the Sudley Club near Manassas.

"He's pretty nice, and a good teacher," Scott Browne, 9, said last week as Ripol instructed a group of youngsters.

"Scott idolizes Bill," Miller added.

Paul Bolvari, a 19-year-old lifeguard at the outdoor pool, joked that "Bill gets all the credit {while} I'm the unsung hero here." Bolvari said he once had Ripol beat coming into a turn "and then he caught me. I don't know how . . . . "

"Paul Bolvari saw the bottom of Bill Ripol's feet {from trying to catch up} more than anyone else in the swim league," Miller said, laughing.

Clearly the coach is proud of his swimmer: "Only a few can go to the Olympics, and only a few get invited to try out."

As for Ripol's comment that he hasn't done anything yet:

"You have to be invited to the ball to dance with the queen," Miller said. "He's at the ball."