For River Hill sophomore Samara Gelb and Howard senior Amilee Smith, swimming is more than a sport, it's a lifestyle. Nearly everything they do outside the pool is connected to what they hope to accomplish in it.

Gelb, a Clarksville resident, swims for the Retrievers Aquatic Club out of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and Smith, an Ellicott City resident, competes for the Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club. They don't know each other, but each specializes in the breaststroke and spends long hours in the pool, logging more than 25,000 meters a week. Both hope their efforts pay off with college scholarships.

"Swimming is such a big part of me," Smith, 17, said. "There are people who don't know what it takes to be a good swimmer because not a lot of people know about swimming. But to be a good swimmer, you really have to dedicate yourself to it."

Smith gets out of bed at 4:45 a.m. for 5:30 practice in Silver Spring, where she swims for two hours. During the summer she then goes home and rests before another grueling practice each evening.

"It sometimes crosses my mind why she's so driven," said Carolyn Smith, Amilee's mom. "People tell me they can't imagine a normal person wanting to do this. But being the best swimmer she can is what Amilee really wants."

Gelb has two-a-day practices at UMBC, works with a nutritionist to fuel her body properly and lifts weights nearly every day -- all to try to shave precious seconds off her time in the breaststroke, individual medley and butterfly.

"At 10:30 in the morning, I eat a hamburger and fruit because it's my biggest meal of the day," Gelb said. "Then at around 1 o'clock I'll have a peanut butter sandwich. I'll have six meals a day."

Gelb, 14, who has been swimming competitively for close to a decade, is entering a pivotal year. She is coming off a knee injury that made her miss the prestigious ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championship last week in Irvine, Calif., where Smith placed 23rd in the 200-meter breaststroke.

Gelb's short-term goal is to have a good showing at the U.S. Open in Albany, N.Y., this winter. She hopes to post a time in the 200-meter breaststroke that qualifies her for the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2008, where the top two finishers will represent the United States in the Summer Games in Beijing.

Smith has qualified for the 200-meter breaststroke at the Olympic Trials after swimming 2 minutes, 35.39 seconds at the U.S. World Championship Trials in April. She is ranked 26th out of 27 swimmers who have met the 2:35.99 qualifying time.

"I just want to get a college scholarship," Smith said. "I'm not even thinking about the Olympics right now."

Howard County does not sanction swimming as a public school sport, although Prince George's, Frederick and Montgomery counties field varsity teams.

But there is a movement to make swimming a varsity sport at Howard's 12 public high schools beginning in the 2006-07 school year.

Andy Lazris, founder of the Howard County High School Swimming Association, said he will submit a proposal to the school board this month to establish the sport. The proposal would require the county school board to fund about $65,000 for coaches' salaries and the use of pools at the Supreme Sports Club, Columbia Swim Center, Columbia Gym and Howard County Community College.

"I think there would be a lot of people at my school [who] would want to swim for our school if it's a varsity sport," Gelb said. "I'll be interested to see what happens."

The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, which governs high school sports, held its first region swim meet last spring and may hold a state championship meet in 2007, said Ned Sparks, the MPSSAA's executive director.

Samara Gelb, above, a River Hill sophomore, wants to post a time in the 200-meter breaststroke that qualifies her for the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2008. Gelb, at right, of Clarksville and Howard senior Amilee Smith of Ellicott City specialize in the breaststroke. Each logs more than 25,000 meters at practice a week.