By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, April 18, 2017
What a 12-month span for USC’s Catherine Vogt, who was the head coach for the U.S. Olympic open water teams. And just when she got back from Rio, it got exciting again, as the USC women had a top 10 finish at NCAAs. If that wasn’t enough, her University of North Carolina Tar Heels won the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. She explains how she winds down, and what winds her up, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. How was the entire lead into the Olympics with that whole year of getting organized, monitoring the water, and getting the team ready?
Catherine: You know, the lead up, being named the coach so far in advance, was one of the most incredible experiences, from start to finish.
2. That’s a different format from how the pool coaches are selected though?
Catherine: It’s like rather than having the pool team, where you have six weeks of excitement, and that I hear is so powerful for a short period of time... but with open water, being named a year out, well, it was awesome and exhausting (laughs) at the same time.
3. What a staff, wasn’t it?
Catherine: All of the other open water coaches were awesome. I would say it was actually pretty incredible to be part of that group and to be able to experience something like this with such great coaches, who are also great people.
4. You are always so grateful and humble when I ask you about being named coach or being a pioneer. Why is that?
Catherine: I try to be pretty realistic and stay humble because I know there are so many coaches around the world and within the country who are awesome. I have been blessed with opportunities, and I try to make the most of them.
5. You are someone who people come to and look up to. What’s that like?
Catherine: I just try to see where it will go and what I can learn to make me better. Because the second you think you know everything, you realize you know nothing. You surround yourself in good places with good people – that’s the key.
6. You have had some good open water mentors, haven’t you?
Catherine: Working with Dave Salo and him being such a great mentor, I learn every day. The open water thing is just incredible. Jon Urbanchek is a big mentor. And so were the coaches who have led the open water team since 2005, leading up to all this in Rio. I just make sure I give back to the other coaches I know as well. I am still always asking questions.
7. What a group of folks you must pick the brains of, right?
Catherine: I spent a lot of time with coach (Bill Rose) and coach Tim Murphy (who led the open water team in 2012). Their knowledge and experience was so valuable. I knew Rio would be a completely different field of play, so I wanted as much information and experienced perspectives going into it, and everyone was so generous. I always see feedback. That’s my job, to take what I learn, and put my own spin on it.
8. I remember when you left UNC for USC. Are we really coming up on a decade already working with coach Salo?
Catherine: I woke up the other day and realized I’ve now been here nine years. Dave Salo absolutely just has such a great sense of swimming. He comes up with such creative swim practices, and dealing with things in and out of the pool so well. He has a great perspective. I really value working with him. The thing at end of day is enjoying the people you work with. Adding Jeff Julian has been just awesome. He’s a Trojan alum.
9. Swimmers always tell me they enjoy training different strokes – even if they specialize – to break up the routine and think about things differently. Is it that way with you and your university role in the pool, and open water?
Catherine: I think that’s a good analogy. I struggle to sit still (laughs), so it’s good to have the different moving parts. Some days we go from college season and then it’s coaching men and women, and then I look up and it’s open water and the National Team. But again, the reason it’s so enjoyable and why it means so much is the people – I love the friendships.
10. You enjoy that pressure at competing at the highest level in college and internationally, don’t you?
Catherine: I’m pretty competitive, and I want to be one of the best, which means me becoming better every day, from every interaction and every experience. I’m fortunate to be working with the National Team when I can. There is still so much for us to learn in open water as a country. So yes, I shift from NCAAs in March to open water, and I look forward to both.
11. How much fun is it having your daughter Carson be such a big part of this?
Catherine: Carson is 6 now. She makes me a better coach and person and mom. She came to a week of NCAAs, and having her and my mom in Indianapolis really made it mean a lot more. That was so great, and so important for her to see and understand that environment, and her mom’s role in it. Plus, she’s on a swim team now, so it’s great for her to see how her role models do at a meet that big.
12. She’s quite the little grown-up at times. Does that catch you off guard sometimes?
Catherine: Oh absolutely, yes. Being a parent is really challenging but it is so rewarding. I don’t want her to be too wise beyond her years. I feel so fortunate. She’s 6 going on 16 sometimes, and those are great times. But others times I want to keep her little!
13. She must get a kick being around Coach Salo?
Catherine: She said something the other day and Dave just cracked up. She was telling a story and Dave said, “Carson, did that happen yesterday?” And she said, “No, yester-night.” Pretty charming how little kids can be so literal sometimes.
14. Going back to UNC and this journey, it seems like you like staying in touch with everyone, don’t you?
Catherine: Oh definitely, that’s what keeps us all doing it, because at the end of it all, what you remember are the people. I got a text from Joe Kinderwater about what he’s doing in his amazing life, and I talk to Chip (Peterson) just about every week. It’s so amazing to think about our role as coaches in helping shape these people’s lives and then be able to follow the journey and paths everyone chooses. You have so much in common with these people. The strength of those relationships is what I take a lot of pride in, and give a lot of thanks for, every day. That really hit home in Rio, because we had our families there, and that made the experience mean so much. That is what we will remember the most. Those relationships lead to healthier and happier lives.
15. A lot of prep went into Rio with the water and everything else – the event turned out pretty great though, didn’t it?
Catherine: We knew what we were getting into. Obviously there are always going to be challenges with an event like that. But it was a beautiful site, and it was an exciting race. One I was glad to be there for and be a part of. It was an honor.
16. Did you get to do anything fun in Rio after the Games ended?
Catherine: I had an extra day at the end. I’m a beach person, so getting that time with family there, exploring Copacabana, and not staying in the village the last night was a great way to end it and experience more of the country.
17. Representing the United States never gets old to you, does it?
Catherine: Definitely, I appreciate it and am humbled each time. When you get to travel the world, you see how fortunate we are. You are just so proud to be able to represent your country. It reminds you that you are always responsible to make the world a better place, to be a leader, and when you are charged with something like that, you take it pretty seriously. I feel very fortunate. But I also know when you come back you have to get back to real life. But it’s so great to have these opportunities help shape you and who you are. At the end of it though, I just remind myself I’m a mom living here trying to do my best each day. I don’t let it get too big or make too much of myself – I’m just thankful.
18. Open water in the U.S. has had veterans for so long, but might we see some new faces this year?
Catherine: The (open water) National Team could be in for a shift this year. Sean Ryan was a fixture for so long. Chip is still competing. And of course Jordan is great and still young. But I think we’ll have some young males on the National Team this time. For the women, we have some great women like Haley (Anderson), Ashley (Twichell) and Eva Fabian, but I think you’ll see some youth come up there, too. Plus, we had Becca (Mann) here for her freshman year, and she’ll transition this summer for open water. She was on Worlds teams for 2013 and 2015. So it will be really exciting to see the men’s and women’s team. Knowing where the venues are the next four years and what the competition is, and that we have a lot of great coaches and interest is piquing even more.
19. WUGs, Pan Ams and Pacs, all these great meets, the World Cups – there’s a lot going on that fans can follow these great athletes and people in, isn’t there?
Catherine: You know, I‘ve never taken part in WUGs, but I have heard from the athletes who go that they have so much fun. They have these great meets and build lifelong friendships and relationships. That’s what this is all about. Mark Schubert, who got me into this when he was National Team director, is at Mission Viejo, so it’s cool to see him again. You just see all these people who are in this for so long, and you figure out why it brings them all so much joy. And you learn how success can be defined in so many different ways. London and Rio, for example, were successful for different reasons. If you always win, it’s not fun, because the most growth comes from the times when things don’t go your way. That makes being at the top of the world when you get there so much more satisfying and rewarding.
20. How about the Tar Heels winning NCAA hoops?
Catherine: Oh my gosh, it was awesome! Carson was on spring break, so we watched it together – and watched three games leading up to it. I was able to watch it with other Tar Heels who are out here. And I am a huge fan of basketball. I love watching Coach Roy Williams working with the athletes. People say to me, “Are you a Tar Heel or a Trojan?” The answer is I don’t have to be one or the other – I am both. I would not have gotten here if not for my Carolina ties, and my life in Carolina – those experiences shaped me helped me get to this point. So, yeah, national champions!