Perhaps for most people, getting up in the cold early hours to plunge into an outdoor swimming pool is the last thing they would choose to do first thing in the morning. But for a few, it’s a choice they happily make.
"It's just a part of swimming,” said Megan Severa, a Team USA triathlete who trains at the Van Nuys-Sherman Oaks (VNSO) Pool. “Early morning practices just come with the package.”
Severa is an elite member of the Southern California Aquatics (SCAQ) swimming program based at VNSO, located at 14201 Huston St. She works out there several days a week with a small group of the swimmers that populate the fast lane, training under the guidance of SCAQ coach Mark Savage, a UCLA alumnus and photojournalist.
According to Clay Evans, SCAQ founder, UCLA swimming star and two-time Olympian (Evans won Silver at the Montreal Olympics), SCAQ is the largest Masters swimming program in the United States. SCAQ offers training for every level of adult swimmer in eight pools throughout Los Angeles County, with the VNSO club training some of the best swimming talent in the San Fernando Valley, where a large percentage are triathletes like Severa. Evans said that SCAQ is also open and welcome to adult newcomers wishing to take up the sport for competitive training or for a structured workout.
Severa, a Wisconsin transplant, told Patch she took up swimming back in first grade because her friends at school were swimmers. Severa said she used to wait around for them while they practiced. Then it struck her.
"Why am I just sitting here, when I can be swimming with them?" Severa realized.
Severa said she has been swimming competitively for 18 years total, taking up triathlon competition for the last four years. “I tried to quit [swimming] in college, and I came back a few years later."
Severa competed last month at the 2012 ITU World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand, representing Team USA in the triathlon. Earlier this year, Severa competed at the USA Triathlon National Championships in Burlington, Vt. where she qualified for the 2013 World Championships in London. Severa also raced with Team USA in Beijing in 2011.
Severa said the Auckland event was an “Olympic distance triathlon,” consisting of an under-one-mile swim, a 25-mile bike ride, and a 6-mile run, where “all the fastest in the world” competed in specified age groups. Severa said she finished in the top 50% in her age group.
Patch asked Severa if she had been to New Zealand before, and she stated that this was her first visit to that country. Severa said she was invited to compete at the World Championships there based on her qualifying at the U.S. National Championships, so she felt this opportunity was a great honor. “I wanted to do my best to make it there,” Severa said.
Severa also told Patch that she noticed one way New Zealand differs from the United States is by its prominent farming and ranching culture.
“There’s a lot of sheep! There’s like ten times more sheep than people. You'll be on a hike, and you'll look next to you, and there's dozens of sheep; Which was actually great… I love the sheep!” Severa exclaimed. "I fed a lamb with a baby bottle. It was awesome!"
Severa stayed two-and-a-half weeks in New Zealand, visiting the cities of Auckland, Queenstown and Wellington. "New Zealanders are the nicest people and it's a beautiful country." Severa said.
Severa noted she is not competing in any more events until next year’s Triathlon competition in London, and will use her “off-season” to focus on areas of improvement, especially for the London event.
Severa said she will do more yoga, stretching and relaxation in her off-season. "I don't really decrease training volume, but the intensity goes down. Just to get some downtime, so it's not always go, go, go."
Severa is employed as a registered critical care dietitian at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys. Patch asked her if her career was inspired by her active lifestyle.
"Definitely. I think health is the most important thing you can give yourself. Fitness and proper nutrition are just key to living a long and happy life." Severa said. "So what I do at work and what I do outside of work all come together very nicely for me."
Patch asked Severa for any words of advice to people looking to become more active by swimming.
Severa quickly offered: "I would say go for it. Find a pool, find a team, come to SCAQ. You get one free workout to see how it is, which is what I did.”
“When I moved here, I really didn't know anybody, and I wanted to do something active, and I wanted to meet people.” Severa said.
“So I just took a chance, I showed up to SCAQ. I was really nervous about it, and now I've been swimming with them for three years now. Just come out and give it a try."
Clay Evans from SCAQ invites anyone to a 101 Workout/Clinic for FREE, and also to try out FREE two weeks of workouts. To find out more and to sign up, visit SWIM.net.
Evans said half of the swimmers at SCAQ started there as beginners, where a SCAQ coach was also their first swim teacher, so “everyone can fit in.” Evans said that SCAQ is well-trained to teach even those who do not know how to swim, or who are initially fearful of being in the water.
“We are so popular because our people just like the organized, structured coached workouts with all the tech work thrown in.” Evans added.
According to Evans, SCAQ currently has three Olympians coaching swimmers in their program, so if you want guidance in getting the “most fitness” out of the time spent in the water, SCAQ is the place!