Yesterday morning morning I was lucky enough to sit down with Matt Josa and Patricia Castro-Ortega of SwimMAC Team Elite. Last year both Patricia and Matt were the NCAA Division II swimmers of the year for Queens University of Charlotte. That same year the Queens Swim Team, under Head Coach Jeff Dugdale, took home the NCAA Championship Title, the first time Queens has won a team NCAA Championship in any sport in their 157 year history.
Big things are happening with swimming in Charlotte right now.
Patricia, an Olympic swimmer who represented Spain in the 2012 Olympic Games, came to the USA specifically to train with Team Elite and David Marsh. Matt Josa is a hometown boy and Olympic hopeful born and raised here in Charlotte.
You can see both Patricia and Matt swim against the best in the world at the Arena Pro Swim Series this weekend at the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center in Uptown Charlotte.
What does it take to become a Team Elite Swimmer?
Matt: About 4 years ago you had to have an Olympic trial cut to qualify for the team, but that’s not really the case anymore. Now, it’s based on how much potential David Marsh sees in you and where he thinks he can take you; whether that’s to an Olympic level or even to an Olympic medal level.
Patricia, what brought you to America from Spain?
I was happy living in Madrid, but I had been swimming in the same pool since I was 6 years old, and I just didn’t feel motivated. I needed a change. One of my friends suggested that I reach out to Jeff Dugdale at Queens University of Charlotte, so that I could go to school and swim at Queens, and at the same time train with Team Elite…and it has all worked out.
Where did you first start swimming?
Matt: I started swimming on a summer league team, with the River Hill Sharks in Clover, near Rock Hill. But when I was 15, I really made the decision to commit to swimming. I joined SwimMac and decided to get serious about chasing my dreams.
Patricia, how does Charlotte compare to your hometown of Madrid?
Well, it is totally different. To be honest I like it here much better. I prefer living in Charlotte and I prefer swimming here. I feel like I have a strong group of people who care about me here and care about how I swim, and I really like that.
Matt, as a Charlottean, how has swimming for Team Elite changed your experience of the city.
It’s helped me to experience more of the city. We swim in pools all around Charlotte, so I get to see more parts of the city than I would normally, and going to Queens University of Charlotte has really helped me to learn my way around.
As Team Elite Swimmers how important is what you eat to your training regimen?
Patricia: Because I am a girl I need to be careful what I eat. I love chocolate, but I know that sugar is not really that good for the body. So I have to be careful, especially here in America where a lot of the food is processed. It’s different in Spain, where the food is fresher and healthier. Here I have to pay attention to everything that I eat.
Matt: I just try to eat lean proteins, organic food, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
What is your favorite restaurant in Charlotte?
Matt: I’ve always enjoyed the Greek Isles in South End and Carraba’s, of course. I also really like Vapiano’s in Uptown. With swimmers, wherever we go out to eat, we’re going to be happy because there’s food, and as long as there’s a lot of it, we’ll be good.
Patricia: My favorite food is sushi, and I love Sushi 101 off Woodlawn.
How long do you typically train each day?
Matt: Anywhere from 3 hours to 6.5 hours a day…it’s like a job essentially.
How important is sleep to peak performance?
Matt: Honestly, as soon as we get up, we are thinking about our next nap. Sleep is a reward. Being a student athlete and training with Team Elite, time management is key. If we are going to perform, we need to sleep. Recovery is everything. We can perform pretty well broken down, but getting enough sleep is so important to doing your best. Even if we get a good night’s sleep we still need regular naps just because of how much we are breaking down our bodies.
Patricia: I’ve started to care more about how much sleep I am getting, because I know if I don’t get enough sleep, then I won’t swim my best.
How is Team Elite using technology to heighten performance and get the most out of your training?
Matt: We use underwater video cameras to watch our strokes and improve our techniques. And we’re implementing a lot more technology with advancements in nutrition as well. We use Ikkos to help with stroke correction. We put on the Ikkos, watch a video of the correct stroke technique for about 5 minutes, then we put on black-out goggles (which are totally black so that you can’t see anything) and then we get in the pool and try to replicate the feel of what we were watching on the Ikkos Swimming Pro.
David likes to use a lot of “toys.” For example, we use swim parachutes, swimming socks, power racks, water towers and resistance cords all the time. David likes to keep it entertaining. It’s one thing to have a hard practice, but its another thing to have a hard and entertaining practice.
Patricia: The video cameras. How many there are here and how often we use them is completely different from Spain.
In the rare occasions that you have any free time, what do you like to do in Charlotte?
Matt: I like to go outside and hang out with people, so I love going to Freedom Park. And I love going to concerts, The Filllmore is probably my favorite venue right now.
Patricia: Charlotte is a really nice city, I love it. I love Freedom Park and shopping at SouthPark Mall.
Is it daunting training with world famous Olympic swimmers like Ryan Lochte and Cullen Jones everyday?
Matt: There’s always a question of whether I am going fast enough and keeping up with these guys. When we race, for me, the biggest lesson was learning how to swim my own race and not swim their race. That was extremely important because it helped me grow as a swimmer. So now, I have no problem swimming against Michael or Ryan, because I am swimming my race, not theirs. You have to know yourself well enough to know your own strategy, and that’s the main difference between normal swimmers and elite swimmers, knowing how to swim your own races.
Patricia: They are the best in the world, so it really motivates me everyday to know that I am swimming with the best group in the world. It is the best environment I can have. They really push me everyday. If I am tired, or don’t feel my best, I know I still have to swim my fastest, because this is my opportunity. This is my chance to swim fast. In Spain, I didn’t have to push myself so hard. Here, David makes me race everyday, and I didn’t have that before.
Do you have any advice for young swimmers who have Olympic dreams?
Matt: Find your love for the sport early. If you are going to do this as much as we do it, you have to love it, otherwise there’s no point.
Patricia: Just have fun everyday. You have to enjoy what you are doing.
Besides your workouts in the water what other types of training do you do?
Patricia: Barre classes at Hilliard Studio, it’s like a mix of yoga and Pilates, it’s difficult to explain, but it is so hard. You have to try it to understand barre classes. Your muscles will be shaking after about 5 minutes. It definitely works all of your muscle groups, especially your back and core.
Matt: We do a lot of dry land and free weight training, but barre classes are so hard. It’s not for everyone, but everyone should at least try it.
Do you have any advice for us mere mortals on how we can live a more “Elite” lifestyle?
Patricia: First you have to know what you want, you have to have clear goals, and then you can come up with a plan to reach those goals. And then get plenty of sleep. Sleep is so important.
Matt: Get in a routine. Do something active at least once a day. Eating healthy is crucial. If you want to be healthy, you have to eat healthy.