Silver and 2 Bronze medals at the 2013 World University Games
Silver medal at the 2012 FINA Short Course World Championships
Member of the 2013-14 National Team
These days, there are a growing number of professional, post-grad athletes who earn their livelihood from swimming. There are swimmers who work towards graduate degrees while training full-time. Something you see less of: swimmers holding down full-time office jobs while continuing to train at an elite level.
Laura Sogar is one such athlete. She’s holding down a full-time job as a project coordinator while still attending double practices at her alma mater, the University of Texas.
Why didn’t the 200 breaststroke specialist swim off into the sunset after winning an NCAA championship and international medals?
“I don’t want to retire knowing I could have done more,” she explains. “But it also was really important to me that I worked after I was done swimming collegiately because I’m going to business school. You need work experience before you do something like that. You can apply a lot of the lessons you learn from swimming, but you also need office time under your belt. ”
Sogar began her athletic career as a young child in Texas, swimming and riding horses. “Horses are expensive, “ she laughs. “My parents were happy when I chose swimming.”
However, the inner leg strength she gained as an equestrian served her well in breaststroke. “You have to have really fine-tuned leg muscles for jumping and dressage,” she points out. “It also helped me learn to turn out my feet.”
She first became aware of her potential as a 12-year-old year old, qualifying for the U.S. Open in San Antonio. “I was always very motivated by being able to travel. My dad told me, ‘If you make that meet, we can all go for a family trip. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. So I made the time cut. I didn’t realize how unusual it was to do that at my age until a coach told me.”
Eventually, her family relocated to Tucson and later Rhode Island, where she went to high school. After a short stint with a local team, she followed a friend (future Olympian Elizabeth Beisel) to Bluefish Swim Club in Massachusetts.
“Chuck Batchelor is one of the craziest and best coaches I’ve ever had,” she exclaims, describing his punishing endurance workouts, which included a 10,000-yard breast set. “I haven’t done harder sets than that since, including college, ” she adds.
In hindsight, she recognizes the benefit was as much, or more, mental than physical. “Having the memory of doing all of those insane things and knowing I grew physically and mentally is the lesson I remember when I have a hard set or race coming up. It still works.”
Thanks to Batchelor’s emphasis on endurance and academics, Sogar had two powerhouse athletic and academic programs from which to choose. “It was really hard saying no to Stanford, but I ultimately felt like a had a bond with the girls at Texas.”
That bond became crucial during her junior year when women’s head coach Kim Brackin was fired with only a few months to go before the 2012 Olympic Trials.
“Going through that whole experience really helped my class mature,” she recalls. We had to keep 15 underclassmen from quitting right there on the spot. The (three-month) transition was rough, but so many of my classmates are extremely successful now because of the lessons we learned from that. It taught me how to be able to lead a team through a difficult situation.”
Under new Texas coach Carol Capitani, Sogar qualified for the 2013 World University Games in Russia, where she won three medals. But she saved the best for last – literally, her last event in her last meet as a Longhorn. “My proudest moment was winning NCAAs in the 200 breast my senior year. A lot of people didn’t think I could do it, so it was cool to prove them all wrong and show we had a good team after the drama of the past three years.”
Following NCAAs, Capitani urged Sogar to carry on training, telling her, “I think you have more left in you. You’re clearly not done, you’re getting better and you’re having fun.”
Since then, she’s been balancing elite-level training with work and the physical therapy required to heal following surgery from her first major injury, a split hernia in her groin. “It’s been difficult, but I’ve learned a lot about myself.”
Going to elite international competitions while holding down a full-time job poses its own set of challenges. “It’s hard because I have to be on call, checking my phone for e-mail,” she explains. “And then there’s justifying the time off. But the good thing is my bosses understand. The coolness factor helps. They say, “Ooh, she’s trying to make the Olympic team! We gotta let her go.”
Sogar’s current schedule has driven home the two most important habits she’s learned from swimming: “Hard work and perseverance. They’ve helped me out time and time again in the classroom and workplace.”
Laura Sogar is a featured clinician on our Swim Videos on Demand app. Click here to learn more about Swim Videos on Demand.