Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Paul Hughes '09: PG Swimmer

From the News Tribune:

Straight ahead is the preferred direction in swimming.

But Paul and Aaron Hughes are taking the roundabout way at the University of Puget Sound.

The siblings will be two of the Loggers’ Northwest Conference-title hopefuls in the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke when the three-day conference meet opens Friday at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way. The Whitworth men and women are defending champions.

A win, or automatic qualifying time, will guarantee the Hughes’ brothers a trip to the NCAA Division III championships, March 18-21 in Minneapolis.

Paul is the top seed in all three breaststroke events and holds the conference record in the 100 breast (55.70 seconds), set at the Husky Invitational last December.

“There’s an outstanding chance we’ll send the biggest UPS team to nationals ever,” Loggers coach Chris Myhre said. “We could send anywhere from two to six people, on both sides.”

Minneapolis would be a superb destination for the Hugheses to swim their last meet together. Paul is a senior; Aaron a junior.

“It’s been a goal of ours, from the beginning of the year,” Aaron said. “It’s been set up now to make that happen.”

The Hughes boys were introduced to swimming while they were living in Juneau, Alaska. Paul was one of the state’s brightest prospects when, at age 16, he needed to switch to a new swimming club for competitive reasons.

When the family decided the Tacoma Swim Club was the best place for Paul to further his swimming career, they packed up and moved in 2003.

“At that point, swimming was a bigger part of my life, and my family was supportive of me getting more exposure and competition,” Paul said. “Swimming was going to be the vehicle to (NCAA) Division I.”

The two enrolled at Curtis High School. Both swam for the Vikings together, then branched out. Aaron picked up water polo, while Paul continued on with the Tacoma Swim Club.

Then health issues that resulted from overtraining changed Paul’s plans.

He missed workouts for nearly six months. Suddenly, hopes of getting to the U.S. Olympic Trials or even joining a high-profile Division I program withered.

“I had to give up those goals,” Paul said. “But it gave me new perspective on the sport.”

Water polo was working out fine for Aaron, who chose to play at the University of Redlands in California while Paul swam at UPS. A few weeks into his first semester, Aaron had a change of heart and wanted to go elsewhere.

He asked his brother if UPS would accept him.

“It was definitely tough making the transition, but Chris was great, and there were a great group of guys there,” Aaron said. “As big into athletics as I am, my passion has been art, and they have a great art program there, too.”

The past two seasons, Paul and Aaron seem to have a grip on their career paths and how swimming fits into their lives.

“Paul got burned out, stepped back … and saw what we were doing and how it was a perfect fit,” Myhre said. “Aaron still plays water polo here, but he’s turned into a heck of a swimmer and is knocking on the door of the national scene.”