Sanders's parents built a pool in their backyard, and because of concerns about their children's safety, Sanders and her brother took swimming lessons from the time they were toddlers. At first, Sanders did not seem very interested, she would often cry and not pay attention. But one day she took off her water wings and began to swim well.
When she was three years old, Sanders joined the Roseville Bears swim team. She could already swim 25 yards. Sanders soon stood out from the other swimmers. When she was four years old, she was competing against seven year olds. Still, she had moments when she was afraid to get into the water.
When Sanders was eight years old, her parents decided to divorce; Sanders found solace at the pool. Although her parents shared custody, the constant moving back and forth was hard on Sanders and her brother. Sanders did train hard at swimming throughout her childhood, but often relied more on talent than on hard work. By her late teens, she would often skip practices. Sanders learned the importance of training hard when she performed poorly at the 1987 Long Course National Championships.
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