It’s nice to have role models.
It’s even nicer to have role models who are great at what they do.
For Ryan McHugh, that’s exactly what he has.
McHugh is a junior on the Roman Catholic High School swimming team, and over the years, he’s become one of the top swimmers in the Catholic League.
Growing up, whenever he needed a little inspiration, he just looked at his older sisters, Ally and Kelley.
Both Little Flower graduates, Ally graduated from Penn State University and is currently one of the top swimmers in the world as she pursues her goal of qualifying for the Olympics.
Kelley, also a star swimmer at Little Flower, starred in the pool and in the classroom at Bloomsburg University where she established records in the pool, and is graduating this month.
“Both of my older sisters were great swimmers, they’re great swimmers, so I started swimming when I was 4 or 5, I’ve been doing it a little over 10 years,” said McHugh, who swims mostly the 200 fly, 100 free and 500 freestyle races. “They’ve helped me a lot. They’re major role models for me inside and outside the sport. Whenever I needed a little help, they’re always there. They’ve helped me a lot along the way, both of them.
“The biggest thing they’ve taught me, I think, is to stay strong mentally because both of my sisters have gone through a lot of tough times during their swimming careers and both had major injuries that impacted them. They keep their head strong and stay strong. They both did that and it’s helped me a lot.
“We talk a lot. We’re a little spread out because when they were both in college, I was home. I don’t get to go to all of their meets, but I try to make as much as I can. I’ve been to a few at Bloomsburg, but Ally trains in Wisconsin. I only get to see her a few times a year because she’s training. I try to watch her meets, even if it’s just on TV, but we are all close.”
While his sisters are amazing swimmers, little brother is definitely making them proud.
Their help is paying off. McHugh is now one of the top swimmers in the Catholic League and he’s already making his mark with the Cahillites, where he broke a few school records this year.
The biggest one was when he swam the 100-meter freestyle in 51.89. The previous record by Gabe Keown of 53.26 had stood since 2010.
Breaking a record is nice, but breaking one that stood for more than 11 years is even better.
“When I got to Roman, they told me about some of the records, I don’t want to say they were a goal, but I kept them in the back of my mind and hoped I’d someday do it,” McHugh said. “They meant a lot, to be honest. I didn’t realize I broke them at first because I didn’t know what they were. I didn’t think I was close to them, but when I found out, it meant a lot because the records are old, one was 11 years. It meant a lot. Roman has a good program, so I was excited to get them.
“I had the records in the back of my mind, but it really wasn’t a big goal, my goal is always to just get better. When you do that, you can break records.”
McHugh is now aiming for a great senior year.
He improved for his junior year despite the lack of practice during the offseason.
It wasn’t lack of trying, it was lack of finding a place to practice. McHugh was able to stay in shape by running and working out, but due to coronavirus, it was nearly impossible to find a place to find pool time. For a guy who practices year round and takes very few days off, that was quite an adjustment.
“During the start of COVID, around March, our club got shut down for six months, so I didn’t swim for six months,” said McHugh, who lives in Fox Chase.“Nothing was open. Around the end of last year, November, we started getting back to normal. For six months, I couldn’t swim at all.
“I didn’t like being off swimming. I like going to practice. It’s hard sometimes, but I like hard practices and pushing myself. Being off for six months was really hard. When we got back, I was a little out of shape from not swimming so it took a toll, but as soon as we got back in the water, I worked and worked to get back in shape. Going that long without swimming is a difficult task.”
This summer, it will be back to the grind. He’ll swim with Lower Moreland and work out on his own.
If things go well, he’ll follow in his sisters’ footsteps by continuing his swimming beyond high school.
“That’s definitely a dream of mine,” said McHugh, who is leaning toward majoring in mechanical engineering. “I’ve always thought, because I like seeing my sisters succeed and I want to get to that point one day. I keep working at practice and hopefully I get to that point.”