Julie Swail Ertel was still a toddler when she started swimming.
Growing up in warm and sunny California, it is no surprise that she got
started in the pool at an early age. As VOA's Steve Schy reports,
Julie turned her love of swimming into her ticket to the Olympics.
Julie Swail Ertel says she has always loved the water. She told VOA Sports about her early start in the sport.
competitive swimming when I was six, and my Mom said that at about a
year and a half I was able to swim across the pool," said Julie Swail
Ertel. "So [I] always loved the water, I loved bath-time and that was
definitely my element."
Julie Swail Ertel's talent showed in
high school where she spent all four years on the swim team. But as a
junior, Julie took her swimming skills in a different direction - she
joined the boys water polo team.
"It was interesting, yes," she
said. "We did not have a girls team and the coach was very equitable
and he said if you work just as hard as the guys and earn a spot on the
team then you can play."
Julie continued with water polo in
college, playing four years as an All-American on the women's team at
the University of California San Diego and winning two national
championships. She joined the U.S. women's water polo team in 1993 and
made her first Olympic appearance in 2000, as the U.S. won the silver
medal at the Sydney Games.
After leaving water polo behind in
2001, Julie was looking for a new challenge. The team chiropractor
suggested she try triathlon, a combination of swimming (1,500 meters),
cycling (40 kilometers) and running (10 kilometers).
looking to fill six to seven hours of my day that I would not be
spending training and he said triathletes train more than anyone he
knows," said Ertel. "So I thought that sounded like fun, and 3.5 weeks
after I came back I went and did my first triathlon with the promise of
an ice cream cone at the end, and I realized this is a fun sport."
was more than just fun. Julie Swail Ertel was good enough to turn pro
in 2003 and was an alternate at the 2004 Athens Games. She talks about
making the transition from water polo to triathlon.
is very similar to egg-beater [the name for a water polo drill], which
is how we tread water," she said. "The muscle groups are the same, just
learning how to clip in and clip out of my pedals was probably the
toughest thing about cycling. The running I started from scratch. I
had never done any land sports in my life."
But Julie says running is now her favorite part of the triathlon.
I absolutely love," she said. "Not only because it is very close to the
finish line, but just the feeling that it gives me. It is a very free
feeling and a very strong feeling. You get to take in so much more of
the scenery because you do not have to worry about what you are riding
over with your bike."
2007 was her breakout year, winning the
USA Triathlon Elite Nationals and bringing home the gold medal at the
Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro. After winning the Olympic Trials
in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in April, Julie is on her way to Beijing, and
she has visualized her perfect race.
"My race would go like
this," said Julie Swail Ertel. "I would come out of the water - rested
- because I swam on somebody's feet [right behind another competitor].
But [cycling] in a nice strong group with good cyclists and we were
able to pull away from the second pack. And then, starting on the run,
just building through the six miles [10 kilometers]. Building up speed
with the final kick in the last mile."
Julie Swail Ertel's goal in Bejing is to win her second Olympic medal, as she competes in her second Olympic sport.