Ryan McHugh was excited to be there.
But he was happy to do much more.
McHugh is a senior at Roman Catholic High School, and this year he qualified for the state swimming championships at Bucknell. He qualified for the 100-meter butterfly and the 500-meter freestyle, becoming the first Cahillite swimmer to ever qualify for two events.
As a competitor, he was happy to go up against the best.
As a swimming fan, he was happy to watch his competition.
“Honestly, I think I was more excited about just going and watching because I love watching good swimmers,” said McHugh, who lives in Fox Chase. “I had never been to states to swim, I think I went when my sisters were swimming, but I don’t have a good memory of it because it was a while ago.”
McHugh’s sisters, Ally, who graduated from Little Flower in 2015, and Kelley, who graduated in 2017, were both great swimmers in their day.
But little brother is pretty good himself.
McHugh, who was seeded 16th going in to the 500 free, finished in ninth place. It was a personal best for McHugh.
“I was thinking about this, I love swimming and competing, but this had to be the best thing I’ve ever done in my swimming career,” McHugh said. “I dropped times in both finals. I did way better than I was expecting.
“I went into the district meet not expecting to qualify because I didn’t get to go my first three years. I just went out and swam the best I could, and I qualified. Then when I got to states, I just did it again. It went better than I expected. I was very happy with the finish.”
McHugh’s performance was great, but it’s even better considering he had to swim two completely different strokes at Bucknell University, the site of the swimming championships.
It was also a great showing because McHugh started the season behind the eight ball after testing positive for coronavirus earlier in the winter.
“I didn’t get really sick, but when you get it, you can’t practice, you can’t really do anything, I missed two weeks of training and that’s a lot,” said McHugh, who also swims with the Lower Moreland swim club. “It wasn’t that I couldn’t do it, it was that I had to stop practice for two weeks so I didn’t get anyone else sick. It’s a lot of time to miss.
“You never know what would happen. I went from swimming every day to no swimming at all. When you get back in the pool, you’re not yourself. It took probably at least two or three weeks to get back to normal.”
Normal was, after a few weeks of hard work and recovery, he put on the swimming performance of his life.
And his swimming earned him All-State honors in both races. It’s not too common to excel at two different strokes, and McHugh admits training was tough. That’s what makes his achievement so special.
“Honestly, it was different because the fly is my better stroke, but I placed better in the 500 free,” McHugh said. “It’s tough, it’s up there. If you ask me my opinion, I would say 200 free but 500 free is a close second. I think it’s hard because it’s the longest sprint. The 500 free, you have to pace yourself, so it’s a little easier.
“It was really hard training for both because you have to have a practice that focuses on both. It’s very difficult. It was pretty difficult mixing both into practice. Honestly, I just did the practice my coach wrote, I mixed and matched. And it ended up working out.”
It was a great way for McHugh to finish his high school swimming career. And while he’ll continue to swim at Lower Moreland with his club team, his days in the water are coming to an end.
Instead of swimming in college, McHugh plans on enlisting in the Air Force after graduation. It will be tough to give up the sport he has spent his entire life competing in, but he’s also looking forward to the future.
“As of late last year, I was going to go to a four-year college, but my sister’s boyfriend talked to me about an aviation career,” McHugh said. “I’m looking forward to it, and getting into air traffic controlling. After I graduate, I have to take a test and from there, it could be six months to a year before I go.
“I didn’t know much about it but what really got me was it’s a very hands-on job, and the air crafts are amazing. It’s a pretty well-paying job, and honestly, the money doesn’t matter, I just want a good career. But it’s good money.”
This isn’t the first time his sisters had a hand in grooming him for the future.
Both of his older sisters were standout swimmers at Little Flower, and whenever little brother needed help, they were there. Now, he’s joined them as standout swimmers.
“They were so big in helping me, my whole family was,” McHugh said. “My sisters have impacted me a whole bunch throughout my swimming career. They helped me to prepare. My mom came up with me, they couldn’t, but they always helped me. It’s so cool, I know they both made states and it’s kind of nice to join that club. All three of us made states. It was pretty cool.”