By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Growing up a California girl, Meghan Hawthorne has never really seen snow up close and personal.
She’s hoping that all changes over the next two weeks when she and her U.S. teammates take on a European All-Star squad in the Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool in Glasgow, Scotland.
Only her second senior international competition (she competed this summer at the World University Games), Hawthorne, a senior at the University of Southern California, is anxious to get in the water – and also see some of the wet stuff on the ground.
And if a few flakes were to fall on her outstretched tongue, even better.
“How cool would that be?” she asked. “Not only do I get to compete for the United States, which I absolutely love, but I get to do it in a climate so different from California. I really hope it snows. I’ve always wanted to experience a White Christmas.”
Relatively new to the international scene, Hawthorne is somewhat of a late bloomer when it comes to swimming.
Following a strong 2012 Olympic Trials, where she finished sixth in the 400 individual medley and made the semis in the 200 IM, she had her breakthrough meet at the 2012 U.S. Open. She won the 400 IM and earned her spot on the WUG team competing the following summer in Kazan, Russia. Hawthorne would go on to claim silver in the 400 IM at WUGs, leading to her selection for a spot on the Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool roster.
With a disposition as sunny and cheerful as the climate in La La Land (she hails from Granada Hills), Hawthorne is just taking it all in right now.
She said she has no real expectations of what’s to come. She’s simply enjoying the ride – which has become somewhat of a rollercoaster lately, but one she has been patiently waiting for her ticket to for some time.
“I definitely feel like I’ve been working toward this for several years now, and now that I’m here, I want to savor each meet, each experience, each relationship with teammates, etc., because you never know how long you’re going to be here,” said Hawthorne, who will be joined by Trojan teammate Kendyl Stewart in Scotland.
“I honestly haven’t been swimming competitively for as long as some other swimmers, and I really feel like I can still get better and hopefully faster. I do know that I’m more motivated than ever to see how much farther I can take my swimming. Once I know I’ve come to the point where I’ve hit the wall, so to speak, then I’ll reassess and decide how I want to proceed.”
With the Olympics in Rio still several years away, Hawthorne said she isn’t sure how long she’ll continue swimming after she graduates from USC next May. A human biology major with a minor in occupational science, she said she does know she eventually wants to continue with school in the near future to earn her MA and doctorate degrees in psychology.
It’s always been her goal to work with kids, and she envisions a future helping high school students as a school psychologist…and maybe as a swim coach.
“I’m excited to graduate next year, but I’m also excited to start back to school at some point so I can work as a school psychologist,” said Hawthorne, who started swimming competitively at age 12 after giving up competitive soccer and horseback riding. “I think working with youth is my calling. I spent time this year observing a school psychologist, and it really pushed me to want to do that even more. And if they need a swim coach at the school, even better.”
As part of an educational project through USC, Hawthorne also worked with inner-city kids and would love to become involved with Teach for America – a growing movement of leaders who work to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education.
“I can’t imagine doing anything other than working with kids in some capacity,” Hawthorne said. “It’s always been my dream, and I would love to give back to them, to help them however I can. It’s something we all should do to some degree.”
In the meantime, she’s just enjoying her final season as a USC swimmer and student – and, of course, can’t wait to represent the United States at the Duel – a meet she is well aware the United States has never lost.
“We all feel pressure to maintain the U.S. dominance in the Duel, but my ultimate goal is to have fun and swim as fast and as well as I can. That’s all I can ask of myself,” Hawthorne said. “My USC career has absolutely flown by. It honestly feels like I just arrived here, and now I’m almost done.
“But I know I still have some great swimming ahead of me. Whether or not that carries into 2016 and Olympic Trials, I’m not sure. For now, I am just excited to be where I am.”