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Regis Jesuit swimmer gets huge surprise before big meet

A 24-hour head start can make the world of a difference.

CENTENNIAL — To the average person, 24 hours doesn't seem that long. Whether it's waiting for a package, waiting to watch a game or maybe waiting for the weekend, 24 hours is manageable.

But when you've been gone for more than six months, 10,000 miles away and your only form of communication has been over the phone or via letters, a 24-hour head start can make the world of a difference.

That's why Sunday afternoon, mother and Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Shifrin of the United States Air Force JAG corps made it home a day early from her tour in Africa to surprise her daughters at one of her eldest's swim meets.

"I really wanted to watch [Camille] swim that relay, she was very excited about swimming it," Shifrin said. "I just couldn't wait any longer to see my daughters."

Camille, a freshman at Regis Jesuit, and her 7th grade sister Nicolette, were at Arapahoe High School for Camille's club swim meet with the Aces Swim Club of Colorado. As the National Anthem was set to play, an announcement was made over the intercom.

"They just started talking, and it was a lot of jumbled words, so you didn't really know what was going on until they said, 'We have a special guest,'" Camille said.

It was then that she took off running, as her mother's voice filled the pool area.

"It [was] a lot of relief, honestly, that she was back and that she was safe and everything, and that she had come to see the meet today," Camille said.

It took younger sister Nicolette a few minutes longer to find her mom.

"I was following [Camille] and then I was like, this was probably a swim thing, because I don't have my contacts in," she said laughing. "I couldn't see mom."

The three embraced, before standing proudly for the playing of the National Anthem.

"When you're saluting the national anthem after being gone for over six months, it gives you a whole new feeling after seeing what I've gotten to see, and the mission I got to be involved in," Elizabeth Shifrin said.

Elizabeth has been serving her country for the past 18 years, but this was her first deployment. She was sent to Djibouti, a country in east Africa, and was part of a counter-terrorism operation. She also spent time training the Ethiopian Ministry of Defense on law, war and human rights.

Credit: Elizabeth Shifrin

Elizabeth knows she missed out on some milestones while she was gone, but the family did its best to stay in touch. The mom wrote her daughters each a letter every day she was gone, nearly 400 total. They also spent plenty of time on the phone.

"I've been talking with them, and sometimes we don't really talk. We just sit on the phone and just look at each other," Elizabeth said. "It's just being there."

Now that the family is back together, Elizabeth will take some time off before going back to work -- as a judge. First, however, the mom just wants to be home holding her family.

"That's the hardest part, it's easy to leave, it's a lot harder to be left behind," she said. "They held it together very well, all three of them. Their dad and the girls pitched in, they did a great job, I'm really proud of how they handled things."

This is not the first time a Shifrin parent has left to serve in the military. Elizabeth's husband served in Afghanistan back in 2013.

Credit: Elizabeth Shifrin