By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
After defeating a tough field to claim the NCAA title in the 200 breaststroke, Laura Sogar came back and claimed 200 breaststroke silver at the World University Games in Russia, and bronze in the 100. The University of Texas post-grad talks about how she got to where she is, and just where it is she is headed from here, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. That NCAA battle was epic – was it that way in the water?
Laura: It was fun. It was really cool, especially with my competition in the water, those girls are fast. I was really excited to win. I think it was the first time since 2001 that someone from Texas won (a women’s NCAA individual title).
2. What about finishing your career and not slowing down?
Laura: I was really, really fired up because I had really turned around my career from the year before. And then the second that (former Georgia assistant and now Texas head coach) Carol (Capitani) stepped on deck, I started swimming really well. Before Olympic Trials, I had only been swimming with her for a month, and then a few months later I go a lifetime best. I went another best time last summer.
3. What makes Coach Capitani so successful?
Laura: She’s a great role model as well as a great coach. It’s nice to have those things combined. She cares most about you as a person, and your happiness, and the swimming is secondary. If you are struggling or swimming is not right for you, she’s not going to push you to do anything other than be happy.
4. What’s it like not being on the team anymore as a post-grad?
Laura: Now as a post-grad I am able to focus on my training without the other distractions and I can go even faster.
5. Were you just that much more confident in Russia at WUGs?
Laura: I was fairly confident going into that meet. At this point I am starting to get a feel for the international competition. I knew it would be hard to beat the Russians. I was happy to beat one of the girls. I knew if I raced tough I’d be able to medal.
6. Was that the goal going in?
Laura: If you make one of those teams for the United States, you have the potential to medal. Otherwise, you would not be there – our talent level in these events is just so high, and we are deep as well. And that gives you a boost going into the meet, knowing, “I beat out a lot of really good people to even get here, so I belong here.”
7. Fun to continue swimming after college?
Laura: I am excited definitely. It seems to have become a bit of a trend, to not retire at 22, because so many others have done it and they get faster and faster. Hopefully that applies to me as well – fingers crossed. The big thing for me now is enjoying the process. I am working with USA Swimming doing clinics and community outreach, to spread the awareness of our sport and get people excited about it. It teaches you so many things when you do things like this, and I like it, too.
8. You are not from Texas originally, are you?
Laura: No, I am actually from Rhode Island, and because it’s such a small state, coming to Texas was a big change. My parents moved away (from Rhode Island) when I was a freshman (at Texas) so I have not been back in a while. I should go do a mini-training trip at Bluefish and get the crud beat out of me by (Coach) Chuck (Batchelor). That was such a great place to grow up, and I miss the ocean. But I have definitely found a home away from home in Texas. Austin is incredible.
9. Sounds like the move worked out?
Laura: Yes, and I am going to be honest: The change in weather is big for me – I miss the snow, but I do not miss the winter. It was cold for so long up there. I would be depressed getting cold all the time. Summer in Rhode Island could not be beat whereas summers in Texas are a little intense for me with the heat. I also like the food down here in Texas – the Mexican food is really good. Queso – I didn’t know that was a thing I mean, are you kidding (laughs) me, I can eat that! Delicious food and a whole new culture to appreciate and enjoy.
10. Was making a big change part of the reason for choosing Texas?
Laura: Definitely one of my key things is that it had to be a warm place – I was over being cold all the time. I love the idea behind Texas, what it is, who the people are, and the traditions of this place. Some of the best athletes in the world have come out of this program. You really can’t beat this city or this school. I took my trip here – before I took the trip it was like “maybe I’ll go to Texas” – but after the trip, I was like, “Well, that’s done, I am going here.”
11. What has it meant to have a friend like Kathleen Hersey?
Laura: Kathleen is one of the biggest reasons I came here in the first place. She’s definitely a Longhorn through and through, and has a really kind spirit. She’s willing to talk to you, listen to you, and help you with problems you face. That’s been a big help for me. She simplifies things for me, even with swimming. It’s nice having her here. I can’t say enough good things about her.
12. The trip to Russia wasn’t your first international, was it?
Laura: I went to Turkey last year for short course Worlds, which was such a fun meet for me. That was my first major international competition. I actually ended up getting silver there as well. That was my first time swimming short course meters, so I had no idea (laughs) what I was doing. But it was so much fun. And it’s always an honor to represent the U.S., too. We’re the best!
13. How is being a post-grad in terms of mindset?
Laura: Honestly, it’s been kind of hard. It’s just different when you aren’t on a college team any longer. I do a lot more cross-training out of the water, with workouts and weights. I do a lot of yoga, aerobics, and Pilates-inspired classes, which are really hard! I have really been enjoying that. Nutrition is a key element to that too. Before, I had the backdrop of representing the school and doing it for my teammates, and now you have to take ownership of it and do a lot more on your own. But that’s part of the process of maturing as an athlete and becoming a responsible adult.
14. How excited was the crowd in Russian – it seemed like they put on a really good WUGs, right?
Laura: Russia was so excited, and they were so excited when they beat us – which they did do several times. But we had some great victories over them. We did really well considering they had their actual Worlds team there. They did put on a great meet, swam really well, and I really thought it was nice to see swimming get that much attention.
15. You barely missed making the World Championship team – how did you deal with that, coming off the huge NCAA win?
Laura: Not making it definitely helped fuel the fire for this season – I just missed making Worlds by a tiny amount of time, which was heartbreaking. So I had my week of being down, I regrouped and went to Russia and got to have some really cool success. I was lucky enough to be voted one of the co-captains of the team, and I thought when it happened, “Oh my gosh, this is so cool. It’s hard to articulate this thought, but I really believe through missing Worlds and going to WUGs that perhaps I learned even more, having things happen this way, rather than having made the Worlds team roster. I have always thought you learn more from failures than victory.
16. What about the lessons from Olympic Trials?
Laura: Olympic Trials are just such an incredible meet. This time, honestly, I had no idea what to expect. Up to that point I had been swimming well, but my long course season had been nothing special. I hadn’t even made the National Team the year before. But in the prelim I got a top eight, and made it into the final with a top eight in the semifinal so I was fourth going into the final, which was kind of a shock. That was really the first meet I had swam that fast since high school, which is so exhilarating – in high school, I finaled at Olympic Trials as well, and that is something you remember the rest of your life. It’s just really cool when you walk out of the ready room knowing that you, or someone else in that final heat, will have their dream come true. To be able to pinpoint a moment like that in life is so special, and doesn’t happen often. I was so proud of and happy for the women who made that team.
17. You only have two classes left to graduate, right?
Laura: I am majoring in economics and I have six hours left, yes. I am working part time and have been for a year and a half as I finish school. I am hoping to see where my swimming is going next summer and then most likely I will go to graduate school as I continue my swimming career. My big goal right now is to figure out what I want to study; I am thinking law school, or about (a master’s in) finance. It’s kind of an odd time in life, in this sort of gray zone, where I am not an adult – well, I mean I am, but I’m still in school and doing the swimming thing – but I am also focusing on a career. I have never been a person to focus only swimming, so I will keep learning about my options and be aware of what’s next.
18. A lot of swimmers played soccer or other sports growing up, but you had a unique other event, didn’t you?
Laura: Growing up, I used to horseback ride. I had to choose between horseback riding and swimming – I wasn’t super serious at horseback riding. But swimming was cheaper than horseback riding, even though I had my own horse. I really look back and think that might have helped me with breaststroke, because of the similar motions. Through high school, I also casually did ballet – four times a week, instead of gym. The teacher was from Russia and was very hardcore. That was really fun.
19. You mentioned being a team captain in Russia, does something like that pressure you at to swim better?
Laura: Not pressure so much, but yes, you definitely feel like you better be at your best when you are a captain – I felt like, “If I don’t do my best how can I ask these other girls to do their best?” That’s something that came with being a captain last year at Texas in college swimming, because our school has set really high standards and as a leader you want to set a great tone.
20. Some retirements recently and maybe more on the way, but what an era for breaststroke whether people like Rebecca Soni and Amanda Beard keep going, or retire like Megan Jendrick did – how incredible are those women and how much did they inspire you?
Laura: Those women are my heroes. I grew up wanting to be like Rebecca, Amanda and Megan – and look at Amanda, doing it after she’s had babies! That is just some kind of talent. Really, I hope the others do come back, because you always want to compete against the best because that’s another thing that makes you better. And I really do enjoy the process more than anything.
You know, I didn’t make the Olympic team, or Worlds, and there have been successes and challenges along the way. But life has taught me that things happen for a reason, and there is ALWAYS a silver lining to anything that happens. Yes, I was disappointed for the teams I didn’t make, but I drew an insane amount of motivation from it, and it’s made my work ethic as good as it has ever been. I think the lessons I have learned from that will help me in a lot of areas of life outside of swimming, as well as in the water. Every day, in whatever I am doing, I just want to improve and get better.