Water polo ace Julie Swail sets sights on second trip to the Olympics, as a triathlete

Julie Swail passes the ball for the 2000 United States' national women's water polo team  Credit: Donald Miralle/Allsport
On Nov. 10, Julie Swail, 30, of Irvine, Calif., emerged the age-group women's winner at the International Triathlon Union's (ITU) World Championship in Cancun, Mexico, in 2 hours and 8 minutes.

Just moments later, the former national champion and Olympic silver medalist water polo player announced her decision to turn pro.

Going into the race, the native Southern Californian says she wanted to win the Olympic distance course, but did not expect to.

Less than favorable "tropical conditions" prevailed at the 8 a.m. start, which included a sweltering 88-degree air temperature with 97% humidity. Swail credits her win to careful pre-race planning, which included freezing water bottles and pacing her fluid intake during the race to prevent cramping and overheating.

After exiting the 81-degree water with a strong lead, the long-limbed water polo star sprinted off on the bike, only to discover she had no fluid and the timing chip on her ankle had fallen off.

With no competitors in sight, she pedaled back to the transition area to recover the two water bottles, pausing to pour broken ice chunks down the front of her suit, and quickly re-entered the course.

The overall age-group first place was the final victory she wanted before announcing her decision to step up into the pro circuit and focus on earning a spot on the 2004 Olympic triathlon team in Athens.

With an impressive resume of wins, including first-place finishes at the USAT National Championship in Idaho; the Long Beach triathlon in Southern California, where she defeated 2000 Olympic triathlon silver medallist Michellie Jones; and Mrs. T's in Chicago; Swail is eager to race against tougher competition in the pro circuit.

A relative newcomer to the sport, Swail was encouraged to enter a race, just months after returning from captaining the women's water polo team at the Sydney Olympics, by Tim Gallagher, a former triathlete and the team's chiropractor. Recognizing her talent for the multi-sport event, he offered to take her to the Catalina Island Triathlon.

The self-proclaimed "ice cream fanatic" says in reality, it was Gallagher's promise of a giant waffle ice cream cone called an "Olaf" if she won her age group, that won her over.

With a borrowed bike and shoes loaned by a pregnant friend, she not only got the ice cream, but also placed an impressive second overall.

"That race set the ball rolling," an enthusiastic Swail says. Immediately she began taking the sport more seriously and joined a master's swim program at University of California, Irvine and started running at track workouts with the Mission Hospital Triathlon team.

Recently named the head coach of the UCI women's water polo team, Swail says training goes hand in hand with her work schedule, as she has several hours open during the day, when the players are in class.

Training with groups has been especially rewarding.

"I'm always pushing and getting the encouragement from friends," she says.

She rides with the tri club twice a week for an intense 25-mile ride averaging 20 mph, which includes her favorite part -- a sprint up a two-mile hill. "The bigger the better," she says. "I thrive on hills."

During lunchtime, she attends a master's practice coached by Lucy Johnson, putting in approximately 5,000 yards, with 2,000 to 3,000 of it in the main set of intervals.

With the help of fellow triathlete Dave Fier, who provides weekly track workouts at a local college, she is working toward shaving over a minute off her 10K time.

Swail is quick to point out that even though working out takes precedence, rest is also a priority, and regularly takes two days off per week.

"I never forget to take time off for myself, even if it's a walk around a nearby lake to feed the ducks," she says.

As for the upcoming year, her focus will be on the Olympic-distance courses in more competitive races, including Escape From Alcatraz, Wildflower and the City of Los Angeles Triathlon in pursuit of a chance to compete in the Olympics in a second sport.

"With my determination, drive and work ethic, I feel I have as good as chance as anyone else on making the team," she says.

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