A three-time NCAA Championships qualifier for the UC San Diego swim team, senior backstroke specialist Sandy Hon is looking to make it four in a row this spring. On the strength of her 56.64 clocking in the 100 backstroke at the 2012 national meet, the El Monte native is No. 5 all-time at UCSD in that event. Although her accomplishments in the pool have been noteworthy, the UCSD coaching staff has an equal appreciation for what she brings out of the water. “Sandy has been a three-time national qualifier, an All-American and a school record-holder, but since she arrived at UCSD in the fall of 2010, she has brought an upbeat, enthusiastic attitude to everything she does,” says Triton co-head coach Matt Macedo. “She is one of our most vocal leaders, which is a trait all of our coaches certainly appreciate, particularly during the physically and mentally challenging sets and especially at difficult periods of training like the winter session we’re in now.”
A graduate of Gabrielino High School, Hon took time recently to talk about her career, events and teammates as the 2013-14 season heads into its home stretch.
Q: You also compete in the individual medley, but the backstroke is your primary event. What do you like the most about that stroke and what is the most difficult aspect?
HON: It’s great that backstroke really lets me utilize my underwaters, which is basically kicking underwater in a streamline position; but at the same time, it’s both hypoxic (no breathing) and pretty taxing on the legs because you get no air while you’re underwater.
Q: Besides the added distance, what are the differences between the 100 and 200 backstrokes?
HON: A 100 of any stroke is a completely different race than the 200. Once you dive in, you have to be ready to be sprinting at your max from the get-go. If you try to build a 100, you’re probably going to be left behind by the 25-yard mark. On the other hand, you can build your way and hold on to a pace for the 200. I’m definitely more of a 50-100 swimmer, because I can go out fine. It’s just hanging on that’s a little rough for me.
Q: The team’s biggest fall meet of the year is the annual Arena Invitational which was held in late November. What is the significance of that event? How would you evaluate the team’s and your personal performance there?
HON: Arena’s usually a fun, low-pressure championship meet used to assess where the team is at with our training, and of course to swim fast and get some NCAA cuts. Although we didn’t get as many people qualified at this meet as we had hoped, I’m not at all phased by it because I know our team will have plenty of opportunities to throw it down at all our January meets and at the conference championships, especially given everyone’s attitude since that meet and the way we’ve been killing it during winter training.
Q: Following the Arena Invitational, in order, you had the Thanksgiving holiday, finals, and then, just prior to the holiday break, an intensive seven-day training period. How challenging is it to keep focus over that month-long period?
HON: If I tried thinking about all of that at once, I would go nuts. You honestly just have to take on one thing at a time, regroup, breathe, then tackle the next.
Q: How would you describe that final week of grueling two-a-days? Has it become easier or harder for you over the past four years?
HON: Oh, it for sure gets easier each year. Mentally, sophomore year might be just as rough as freshman year because you know you have three more years of this left, but it gets a little easier physically just because your body has gone through it once. So far (knock on wood), senior year has been the most fun just because my class knows it’s the last time we’ll ever have to do this again.
Q: Do you think swimming is easier or tougher than the average intercollegiate sport? What do you think the average person would be surprised to know about being a member of the team?
HON: If you’re in any intercollegiate sport, I give you props for being in it because every sport is rough in its own way. But I do not think swimming is an easy sport at all. Because it’s a conditioning sport, you always have to train for hours each day just so you don’t lose your “feel” for the water.
Unlike what most people think, we don’t just swim back and forth leisurely. Practices are broken up into sets, with bases that we have to make. If we don’t make them, that’s when we’ll be staring at the bottom of the pool for 2-3 hours trying to play catch-up.
Q: In your three-plus years, what have been your most memorable experiences, in and out of the water?
HON: Despite the ups and downs at NCAAs my sophomore year, being a part of the 200 medley relay is still probably one of my greatest memories. Neda (Nguyen), Olivia (Fountain), Sierra (Robbins) and I won prelims, so we got to pick a walk-out song for finals. Although we were disqualified (for an early entry), we were still clearly the national champions for that event by a little more than a second. It was truly an amazing experience despite the unfortunate turnout. To this day, I still cherish that very moment of watching Sierra finish by more than half a body length, and knowing that we had done it as a team. I would not trade that memory with anything.
Also, I just recently realized that I actually really enjoy going to practice, especially when we all laugh at how incredibly hard it kicked us in the ass. And lastly, I love it whenever we have team functions or dinners, because they are always great and it’s surprising when you learn something new about your teammates.
Q: Excluding members of this year’s team, which of your past UCSD teammates best fit the following descriptions and why? Most talented? Most inspirational? Most fun to have on the team?
HON: Most talented: Since Olivia Fountain hadn’t really done club before college, you can really see how successful she had become year after year. Most inspirational would be between Beth Dong and Katherine Tse. Beth, because of her awesome comeback from a life-threatening back surgery, and Kat, because of her relentless determination to not let multiple injuries prevent her from succeeding in the pool. Most fun: Honestly, anyone that can get me to laugh ’til I cry is pretty great.
Q: UCSD is one of just a handful of collegiate teams that has its men’s and women’s teams almost totally integrated. What do you see as the advantages of that set-up?
HON: It balances all the estrogen on the women’s team and their silliness keeps everyone light-hearted.
Q: You’ve listed playing the piano, oil painting and surfing among your interests and hobbies. How do you account for your diversity when it comes to your leisure activities?
HON: Well, I took up playing the piano as an ultimatum so that I wouldn’t have to go to swim practice when I was a kid (wasn’t a fan of swimming then) and since then, it’s just kind of stuck. As for painting, I had to take a fine arts class in high school and painting was a lot easier than sculpting, so that just sort of stuck, too. For surfing, well we’re literally a street away from the beach, so I had no excuse to not take it up.
Q: When it comes to painting, what are your favorite subjects?
HON: I’m big on painting sceneries and silhouettes.
Q: Rate your surfing skills. What’s the biggest wave you’ve ever ridden? What do you consider the best break in San Diego? Who’s the best surfer on the UCSD swim team?
HON: I’m actually pretty awful at it...still. Biggest wave? Three feet at Scripps, and as for the best break? I don’t go out there enough to even have a say at what the best break is in SD, haha. Best surfer on the team? I hear Alex Merrill’s not too shabby.
Q: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve done at UCSD outside of your sport?
HON: I went skydiving last year. It was a lot of fun because I had wanted to do that with my brother since my senior year of high school. We jumped off at 10,000 feet, and it actually wasn’t that bad. My heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest initially, but once you’re free-falling, you really just feel weightless.
Q: You’re a psychology major with aspirations to go to grad school and eventually get into physical therapy. What sent you in that direction? Is there a specific area of physical therapy that interests you?
HON: Since I’m in the athletic training room pretty frequently, I figured aspiring to become a PT (physical therapist) is the best way I can give back what it’s helped me through. I’d love to work with sports rehabilitation.
Q: You’re now less than three months away from completing your collegiate swimming career. In that time, what would you like to accomplish as an individual? As a member of the Triton team?
HON: With less than three months left, I’d love to break the 50-yard backstroke record I share with Anju Shimura, be part of setting a new 200 medley relay record, and get a few best times. But most of all as a Triton, I’d love to end my swim career knowing that I’ve been a good role model and a dependable teammate through whatever obstacles we’ve faced.
Previous Triton Q&A Features
Drew Dyer (Men's Basketball) November 26, 2013
Kameron Cooper (Women's Volleyball) October 28, 2013
Rachel Leslie (Women's Soccer) October 9, 2013
Marie Diaz (Women's Cross Country/Track & Field) October 1, 2013
Joe Dietrich (Men's Water Polo) September 2, 2013
Josh Cohen (Men's Soccer) August 23, 2013
Sara McCutchan (Women's Volleyball) August 9, 2013
Kellen Levy (Men's Cross Country/Track & Field) July 26, 2013
Izzy Pozurama (Women's Soccer) July 8, 2013
Colin Truex (Women's Crew Head Coach) June 28, 2013