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Q&A with Nevada's Caitlyn McHugh on swimming fast, giving back and aquarium life

Caitlyn McHugh
Nevada's Caitlyn McHugh thrived inside and outside of the pool during her junior season. (Byrne Photo/Nevada athletics)

Nevada swimmer Caitlyn McHugh had a banner junior season, both in the pool and outside of it. As a captain for the Wolf Pack, McHugh helped Nevada finish second at the Mountain West Championship while scoring 76.5 individual points and visiting the podium three times during the meet, earning silver in the 800 free relay and bronze in the 400 free relay and 1650 free. Outside of the pool, McHugh earned the Wolf Pack's prestigious Give Back Like Jack Award for her community service endeavors. She also won the Wolf Pack swimming and diving team's academic award while majoring in wildlife ecology and conservation with a goal of one day working at the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

For McHugh's outstanding all-around season, she is Nevada Sports Net's Wolf Pack Athlete of the Month for May, an honor presented in partnership with Champion Chevrolet. You can watch our full interview with McHugh below, or check out our Q&A underneath that.

Q&A with Caitlyn McHugh

On how Nevada recruited her out of Acworth, Ga.

Caitlyn McHugh: "It's been awesome here in Reno. I absolutely love it. My family is from the West Coast, so when I was looking at schools I always wanted to come back this way. I ended up here because of our awesome coach Brendon (Bray). He was really good at recruiting me and made me want to come here and made me feel comfortable."

On winning Nevada's Give Back Like Jack Award for community service

CM: "I just love being able to give back, and with my major being wildlife ecology I've always loved doing stuff in the environment and with animals, so I feel like you can translate that to helping people, too. And you just feel good when you do it. I think it's important to give back to the community that gives us so much."

On majoring in wildlife ecology with a goal of working at an aquarium

CM: "I grew up in Oregon before we moved to Georgia and we'd go to the coast and the Oregon Aquarium a lot, and I just fell in love with the ocean. It'd be really cool to help protect it and improve it and make it better some day, so that's kind of what's been driving me to learn more about it."

On her dream aquarium to work for

CM: "Definitely the Oregon Aquarium. Potentially the Georgia Aquarium, but that would mean moving back South, so we'll see. But definitely one of those two. I haven't been to the Monterrey Bay one yet. That's definitely on my list. But any one of them would be really cool."

On the last time she was able to get in a pool

CM: "Actually last Saturday. I'm currently in Phoenix with my parents. The pools were able to open last week, but before that it was two months before I swam, which was insane. That's the first time ever in my swimming career that I took that much time off. I felt like a noddle. I sank. It was really awkward in the pool."

On how swimming differs from other sports

CM: "I think it's the dedication, and it's the team part. We're not really a team sport. We're more individual. But because of that, you have to take such accountability for your own actions and your own training because what you do individually has a major impact on your team whereas in a team sport I feel like multiple people contribute to the same outcome. But in swimming, your personal accomplishments need to align with your teammates to reach the end goal instead of being able to lean on your teammates. That's why individual sports are different than team sports, and that's why swimming is a little bit different."

On why she likes swimming the 1,650 freestyle

CM: "It's 66 laps, so it's 1,650 yards. It takes about 16 and a half minutes. It's a long one. I'm the type of swimmer that's really good at hitting cruise control, so I really like the mile because once I get into a pace, I can stick with it. For me, there's more race strategy in the mile because it is longer. There's the, 'When do you speed up? When do you slow down?' There's a game to play when you do longer races, so that's why I like it."

On what she's learned from being on a team with such geographically diversity

CM: "It's really taught me a lot about different cultures and different types of people. Over my three years here, there have been so many different international people on our team that speak different languages or come from different backgrounds or eat different food. It's just been great being exposed to that, and it's eye-opening. It makes me want to travel because we've had girls from every continent besides Antarctica, so I feel like I can go anywhere in the world and have a friend there."

On what is meant to be a captain during her junior season

CM: "It really meant a lot to me because our team voted. When my team voted for me to be captain, it felt like they thought that I had what it takes as a junior to be able to lead a group of people. To be a leader, I feel like you have to understand that not everybody thinks the same way and everybody's not going to agreed with you all the time. That was something I struggled with this past year was learning how to lead effectively and we can still compromise and reach the goal together because that was the big thing, being unified as a team, and that's what a captain should do. It's been a big learning experience for me, and I really enjoyed it and was appreciative of the opportunity I was given."

On what she's been doing during quarantine

CM: "My parents' house isn't very far away from my grandparents. Lately, to try and be contributing during quarantine, my grandmother has taught me how to use a sewing machine and we've been making homemade masks, so that's kind of what I've been doing during quarantine besides trying to do my best to stay in shape. It's nice being home and being around people."

On her teammates' reaction to boosting volunteer hours

CM: "They were ready to embrace it. They're just like me. They love getting out and helping people because it's fun, especially when we'd go out to elementary schools and get to play with the kids and do stuff like that. You really get to see the impact you're making, and it's, 'Oh, I feel cool, I'm a student-athlete.' They think you're awesome, so it's so much fun going to little kid things because they just think you're the coolest person, so my teammates love doing it just as much as I do."

For previous Wolf Pack Athletes of the Month Q&As, click here.

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