Hey! I’m Fiona Hardie from Poole Swimming Club in Dorset and I thought Aqua Zone readers might appreciate an update on how life, particularly swimming, is going for me at university in the USA.
I started here in August at Villanova University, which is about 10 miles from Philadelphia in Pennsylvania on the east coast.
I had several offers but the academics, location and swimming opportunity of competing for an NCAA division 1 school in the Big East Conference made me choose Villanova.
Everything we do here in the USA in swimming is controlled by the NCAA – the number of hours we train; when the season starts; we are allowed no individual sponsorship; and the classes we take. All the competitions and training are short course yards, which seems very short.
I am a member of Villanova Swimming and Diving (unlike the UK, all our collegiate competitions are swimming and diving).
In October we went on a training camp to Puerto Rico for a week during the mid-term break. It was a good training week in the sun and great for team bonding.
On our return competition started. We compete at weekends or midweek and it was a busy time. We swim through the meet, no rest before or after, and no racing suits, just regular training suits.
I have competed in four dual meets against other universities and a three-day invitational event and USA nationals. We were due to compete in a conference meet but due to hurricane Sandy, this was postponed until February.
I was fortunate to travel to Austin, Texas, and compete in the USA short course nationals (SCY). I swam in the 100 and 200 fly, a time trial in 200 IM as well as the 4x50 and 4x100 freestyle and medley relays.
Maybe the highlight was seeing all the US Olympic swimmers including Missy Franklin, Kate Ledecky, Nathan Adrian and Ryan Lochte (and getting my photo taken with Adrian and Lochte!). In the 100 yards fly heats I also swam in the lane next to Christine Magnusson (Olympic medallist!).
Home for Christmas
I came home for a couple of weeks at Christmas and was pleased to catch up with team-mates and my coach at Poole SC, Robin Armayan.
As we are now in training for the Conference final in February, I had only two rest days, with my coaches from Villanova sending me dry side and swim training sessions to complement the training with Poole.
I flew back to the US at the start of January for a week-long training camp before lessons started. It's now a focus for the Big East at the end of February which is being held in Indianapolis.
However, before then we have a two-day Conference meet in New Jersey, a two-day trip to Richmond University and William and Mary University, Williamsburg in Virginia, and a home dual meet against Pittsburgh.
All very exciting but along with lessons and training, a very busy period ahead. We miss lessons to compete and then have to catch up on all the work.
So I am now into my second semester and am happy with my decision to come to the US for university.
It has been very hard at times, education is different, swim training with lots more land training, new coaches and not knowing anyone along with all the other complexities of moving to a new country.
I am fortunate to have made good friends in the team, which is both a male and female team.
Lots of US universities have women-only teams. The women's team is very international with swimmers from Australia, Israel, South Africa, Germany, Finland, Canada and the US. And, of course, Great Britain!