Laub-Norman, the aquatics director at Latin School of Chicago, considers Carlson "a dear child."
Carlson, a Latin graduate who was hired earlier this month as the school's aquatics assistant — her "dream job" — said Laub-Norman is a "motherly mentor."
"Celeste is an icon in swimming for anyone who knows swimming," said Carlson's mother, Sharyl, a Norwood Park native. "For Danielle to have this opportunity, I'm happy for her beyond words."
Laub-Norman, 57, has known Carlson, 25, since Carlson was a 3-year-old swimmer in the program Laub-Norman directed at Portage Park's pool.
Even then Laub-Norman, of Edgewater, said Carlson had a "unique maturity" about her in the water.
"I could hold her in the water and have a conversation with her," said Laub-Norman, who has been at Latin since 1998 after 25 years of working for the Chicago Park District. "Most kids, you drag them back and forth. But with Danielle there was a complete dialogue."
Carlson was a star in Laub-Norman's park district program and then qualified for the state finals in all four of her years at Latin before a stellar career at Colby College in Maine, where she still holds the school record in the 400-meter individual medley.
Carlson thrived at Latin despite a daily lengthy commute — the Blue Line from Cumberland to Damen, then the 72 bus to the school — from her family's home near the Northwest Side in Norridge.
"When I found out where Latin was, I thought it was far away, but that's where Danielle wanted to go because she wanted to swim for Celeste," said Sharyl Carlson, a Steinmetz High grad.
Laub-Norman has guided several club and state champions, but she's perhaps known as much for her colorful hair styles, outfits and eyewear as she is for getting results.
Laub-Norman's hair color, naturally dark brown, changes about every 10 weeks. Purple, blue, pink, yellow or green, no pigment is off limits.
"I think a solid color is boring. I like color," said Laub-Norman who, during her Portage Park days, shaved "Go CPD" in the back of her head for big meets.
The flare for color extends to her home, where each room — lilac in the kitchen, orange in the living room, a purple hallway — is a different, vibrant shade.
"I have a regular nice brown chair, but the rest of the house is hers," said Laub-Norman's husband, Rich Norman, who was a star swimmer and water polo player at Loyola University Chicago and a former principal at Senn High School.
"She's a really colorful person and someone young people can relate to. She has that artistic side of her," he said.
When Carlson was hired, Laub-Norman sent her a card that read "Time to celebrate. Best Fishes, Celeste and Rich" that accompanied a dozen tie-dyed roses.
"Never seen anything like them before," Carlson said. "It just fit Celeste."
Carlson, it seems, has been on track to succeed Laub-Norman. Even during semester breaks from Colby, and then while she was at DePaul University completing a master's degree in childhood education, Carlson helped Laub-Norman coach at Latin's Swim Club and Summer Swim Program. The clubs teach children age 4 through high school basic and advanced techniques.
In her new role, which officially begins in the fall, Carlson will continue those duties while also head coaching the Latin high school boys team and assisting Laub-Norman with the high school girls team.
"They are both good coaches because they are both caring, compassionate, [and] they love teaching and helping kids learn," said Jessica Maurice, 12, a Frances Xavier Warde School seventh-grader who has swum for both women and plans to attend Latin.
Laub-Norman and her husband don't have biological children, but they consider their swimmers their kids.
Laub-Norman said she's found the perfect fit to extend her legacy: her "daughter" Carlson.
"This position is for her," Laub-Norman said. "When I'm ready to move on, this is the person who will continue to grow our programs."