Northeast Times

Lady in the water

Little Flower’s Ally McHugh has been swim­ming since she was a year old. En­ter­ing her ju­ni­or year, the re­cord break­er is not slow­ing down.  

  • A knack for the water: Through her sophomore year at Little Flower, Ally McHugh has already set 10 school swimming records (seven individual, three relay). She also trains year round for the Suburban Seahawks, an elite USA Swimming club located in Newtown Square. PHOTOS COURTESY OF ANDREA MCHUGH

  • A knack for the water: Through her sophomore year at Little Flower, Ally McHugh has already set 10 school swimming records (seven individual, three relay). She also trains year round for the Suburban Seahawks, an elite USA Swimming club located in Newtown Square. PHOTOS COURTESY OF ANDREA MCHUGH

  • A knack for the water: Through her sophomore year at Little Flower, Ally McHugh has already set 10 school swimming records (seven individual, three relay). She also trains year round for the Suburban Seahawks, an elite USA Swimming club located in Newtown Square. PHOTOS COURTESY OF ANDREA MCHUGH

Ally McHugh has been in the wa­ter so long that feel­ing dry has al­most be­come a for­eign concept. 

McHugh is set to be­gin her ju­ni­or year at Little Flower, where she will soon be­gin her third sea­son with the varsity swim team. But she’s been a swim­mer be­fore high school … way be­fore, for that mat­ter. 

Ac­cord­ing to her mom, An­drea, Ally began tak­ing swim les­sons at the North­east Com­munity Cen­ter when she was all but a year old. The fam­ily got Ally private les­sons at age 3, and she swam for St. Jerome from kinder­garten through eighth grade. By the time she was 8, McHugh was already swim­ming at the club level; at 9, she be­came a re­gistered USA swim­mer, par­ti­cip­at­ing in the sport all year round, something else she con­tin­ues to main­tain, save for a three-week break she al­lows her­self every Au­gust.

Swim­ming, quite lit­er­ally, is all she’s ever known.

“When you start something so young, it’s just for fun at first,” McHugh said. “But over the years, like any­thing you do so much, you just grow to love everything about it. Com­pet­ing in the pool is such an ad­ren­aline rush, and it’s so much fun be­ing in that wa­ter push­ing my­self as hard and as far as I can. I hon­estly don’t know what I’d do without it.”

When look­ing at her ac­com­plish­ments to date, it’s safe to say all of McHugh’s hard work has paid off. 

Ac­cord­ing to Little Flower head swim­ming coach Sean Clothi­er, McHugh already holds 10 Little Flower swim­ming re­cords — sev­en in­di­vidu­al, three re­lay — in just two sea­sons of work. She was voted the team’s most valu­able play­er a sea­son ago, and be­cause of her strong show­ing in the Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ships the last two years, she’s qual­i­fied to swim in the PI­AA Dis­trict 12 meet. She holds Dis­trict 12 re­cords in the 100 and 200 breast­stroke as well as the 100 free­style. True to her style, McHugh didn’t just show up to the PI­AA state meet; in­stead, she fin­ished in the top 10 in two events: the 200 in­di­vidu­al med­ley (ninth place) and the 500 free­style (10th place). She enters her ju­ni­or year ranked third in the state in the 500 free­style and sixth in the 200 in­di­vidu­al med­ley. 

In ad­di­tion to be­ing awar­ded All-Cath­ol­ic and All-State hon­ors for her ac­com­plish­ments in the pool, McHugh, an A stu­dent at Little Flower, earned Schol­ast­ic All-Amer­ic­an hon­ors from both USA Swim­ming and the Na­tion­al In­ter­schol­ast­ic Swim Coaches As­so­ci­ation. The high point of this past sum­mer was qual­i­fy­ing for the Speedo Ju­ni­or Na­tion­als Meet, held in Irvine, Cal­if., a com­pet­i­tion Clothi­er called “one of the most pres­ti­gi­ous meets in the coun­try.”

With all the suc­cess she’s already gained, McHugh was asked what con­tin­ues to mo­tiv­ate her in the swim­ming pool.

“I’d say just al­ways try­ing to get to that next level, al­ways push­ing my­self harder to get to the big­ger meets,” she said. “My coaches push me hard, and my mom and my fam­ily do the same. Between that and my team­mates al­ways cheer­ing me on, I’d say every­one around me mo­tiv­ates me to keep go­ing. I’ve got a great sup­port sys­tem.”

As if she doesn’t already have enough go­ing on with Little Flower com­mit­ments both in the pool and classroom, McHugh is in­volved with the Sub­urb­an Seahawks, an elite USA Swim­ming club team loc­ated in New­town Square. Clothi­er re­ferred to it as “the premi­er club team in the area,” while An­drea McHugh said club re­spons­ib­il­it­ies have McHugh train­ing six days a week, two hours a day for the en­tire year, save for her three-week Au­gust break. Her coach with the Seahawks, Charlie Kennedy, is known for train­ing Haver­ford Town­ship’s Brendan Hansen, who won gold (4x100 med­ley re­lay) and bronze (100 breast­stroke) medals for the United States in the 2012 Lon­don Sum­mer Olympics. 

Know­ing she is learn­ing from such an ac­com­plished coach only pushes McHugh fur­ther.

“Swim­ming for Sub­urb­an is very in­tense, but Charlie is such a fant­ast­ic coach,” she said. “He can look at your strokes and know just how to tweak them to make you bet­ter, and over­all he keeps you phys­ic­ally fit and men­tally ready for big meets. He really pushes us to be the best we can be, but he also nev­er yells at prac­tice and is a great storyteller. I’ve only trained with him for a year, but I feel like I’ve known him for awhile. He’s very kind of humble, and he can tell you stor­ies and find a way to ap­ply your own strokes in­to those stor­ies.”

McHugh ad­mit­ted that between school and swim­ming, she doesn’t have much of a so­cial life even though she tries to make as much time for her friends as she can. However, she wouldn’t trade it away, not Little Flower or the Seahawks, stat­ing, “Both are so very im­port­ant to me that I would nev­er pick one over the oth­er.”

Though she’s only en­ter­ing her ju­ni­or year, McHugh has her sights set on swim­ming at the Di­vi­sion-I level in col­lege. Know­ing whom her club coach is, she’s thought about the Olympics, say­ing, “It’s al­ways a goal, but if it doesn’t hap­pen then it doesn’t hap­pen. It’s very hard and very few people make it there, but it’s a nice goal to have. I’ll work as hard as I can to get as close as I can.”

Most of all, McHugh raved about the struc­ture and sta­bil­ity that be­ing a swim­mer has provided her, in both the phys­ic­al and men­tal aren­as. It’s al­lowed her to set goals for her­self and then try to achieve them, and for McHugh, there’s no bet­ter way to see what you’re really made of than to jump in the pool and see where it takes her.

She de­scribed her­self as more of a dis­tance swim­mer who ex­cels in breast­stroke more so than any oth­er, but that this com­ing year she was look­ing to im­prove her game across the board in all fa­cets and strokes.

“Swim­ming, it’s a very hard sport,” she said. “Most people look at it and think they can do it and it’s not that dif­fi­cult, and I think they don’t real­ize how much it takes. When you’re in the pool, it’s a whole oth­er world of pos­sib­il­it­ies. It might not be one of the most pop­u­lar sports, but it is one of the best.

“The real great thing is you can get in­to it any­time in life, wheth­er you were a baby like me or are a little older. It’s fun … it’s like be­ing at home. I’m in it so much that my second home really is the pool. It takes a lot of free time, but isn’t it worth it to push your­self and reach the goals you set? It makes you so happy and proud when you get there.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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