Megan Byrnes, 13, will be sure to bring her stuffed elephant with her later this month on her trip to Omaha, Neb.
Zach Hayden, 24, is packing his passport, and Joe Pascale, 28, also will make the trip with a renewed one for the sport that made him a coveted recruit by colleges a decade ago.
Megan, Hayden and Pascale all will compete later this month at USA Swimming’s London Olympic team trials. And they are just three of the 13 Curl-Burke swimmers with a Fairfax County connection who got their start with the local club and will compete at the event. Although most don’t have realistic expectations of making it to London, that doesn’t mean they won’t try.
The meet begins Monday and runs for a week. Of the thousands of swimmers from around the country who have qualified for the meet, Curl-Burke claims 19, including Bethesda’s Katie Ledecky, a rising high school sophomore who will contend for a spot on the team in the 800-meter freestyle.
“We’ve got a really fun and diverse group going,” said Pete Morgan, one of the club's founding coaches who runs a training group out of the Burke Racquet and Swim Club.
Ellyn Baumgardner, a Fairfax County High School graduate who attends the University of Arizona, probably has the best chance of making the finals of her event — 100-meter breaststroke.
Baumgardner, who helped Fairfax win a state championship as a junior is the sixth-ranked swimmer in a field that also boasts international champions Rebecca Soni and Jessica Hardy. But only the top two swimmers in the final heat qualify for the Olympics.
“They’re way above the rest of the field,” Baumgardner said earlier this year. “But anything can happen at the one meet.”
Megan, who just made the trials cut-off time of 2 minutes, 17.99 seconds in the 200-backstroke in late May, is among a handful of 13-year-olds qualified for the event. Because she turns 14 in September, it’s possible she will be the meet’s youngest swimmer. Her stuffed elephant was a Valentine’s Day gift from her parents a few years ago.
As far as the other items in her suitcase?
“I don’t know [what I’m going to bring], I’m just going to start packing and be thankful I don’t have to worry about school,” said Megan, who will be a freshman at Oakton next year, said with a laugh.
Megan will be in Omaha for almost a week before her event’s preliminaries on June 30. Her goal is to soak in the atmosphere surrounding the trials so she can be more comfortable at the event if she qualifies again in four years. That, and to meet champion swimmer Ryan Lochte.
“He’s really hot,” she said.
Hayden will be bringing his official documentation, because he grew up in Germany, has an American father and an English mother, and competed in the British Olympic trials earlier this year. He didn’t make the team, so he was allowed an opportunity to compete in Omaha.
Hayden’s family settled in Manassas when he was in middle school, and he went to Stonewall Jackson before attending the University of Virginia. He didn’t finish his degree there, and he’s now studying at George Mason and planning to graduate in the fall with an English degree.
“[Pete’s] gone out of his way to [help me and Joe]. He hasn’t had older guys competing as amateur swimmers in a while, but he’s made us feel comfortable,” Hayden said. “We’re getting what we need out of our workouts, but we can’t just crunch out the yards like the [teenagers].”
Hayden said it’s nice to have a high-level club with which to practice close to home, even as an adult.
“In terms of a training facility, it’s great. It’s right in our backyard and people in the area know us. There’s a comfort level you can feel each day at practice,” he said.
Hayden will be joined by Pascale in the 50 meter freestyle and 100 free. He’s also qualified for the 100 meter breaststroke. Based on qualification times, neither swimmer is an Olympic contender.
“Of course every single guy who is going to the trials is wanting to make the team, if you don’t have that in your mind you might as well unpack your bags and stay at home,” Pascale said. “You want to make the team, that’s the reason why you’re going. But I want to be able to beat or crush my times from last year.”
Pascale is encouraged by his progress. He’s swimming faster than he was a decade ago. He also believes the maturity that has come with being in his 20s has brought some seriousness that he didn’t have before.
“When you go to college, at 18 or 19, you’re going to want to have some fun, especially when you’re 21,” he said. “You try to have a college life. Being 28, I have friends who are getting married and having families; things have settled down. I’m a lot wiser, a lot more at ease. I know about nutrition, weight training and adjusting my time to do the training and get the sleep I need.”
No matter what happens next week, he’ll be back in the pool shortly thereafter with his eyes on a trip to Rio De Janeiro in 2016.
“This is the fastest I’ve gone,” he said. “If I get faster every year and make more progress, for me it’s more incentive to keep going. … This is kind of my way of saying ‘thank you.’ It’s the least I can do for my family and Pete and all my buddies.”
And if one of the Curl-Burke swimmers, like Baumgardner or Ledecky were to make the team for London?
“It would be so cool, it would be incredible,” said Megan, whose family extended their trip just to be there for the women’s 800 meter finals. “It’s definitely inspiring [to be around swimmers like that].”