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Sharks, open water? No sweat for Pepperdine's Barragán

Vida En El Valle

(Published Tuesday, February 7th, 2012 11:18AM)

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The Sharkfest Swim helped Natalia Barragán earn a spot on the Pepperdine women's swim team.

When she was 13 years old, her father Ray Barragán entered the two in the grueling Sharkfest Swim, a 1.3-mile swim from Alcatraz Island to the San Francisco Bay shore.

"I remember all these people looking at my father like, 'what?' because I was kind of young. But we swam the Sharkfest from Alcatraz to shore," recalls Barragán, now a 20-year-old junior at Pepperdine. "It's really like 3 miles to shore depending on the current. It was really fun."

Barragán, the only swimmer among her four siblings, and her father finished the swim in about 1-hour, 47 minutes. He said the tough learning experience is the reason she has a "can-do" attitude about college.

"It was tough," said Ray Barragan, "I mean, there's sharks, there's people around you throwing up and jelly fish. I don't think Natalia's swim coach made it. The current started to pull us too when we were near the Golden Gate (Bridge)."

Natalia is taking on a double-major, pre-med student and psychology, while competing for the Waves' NCAA swim squad in the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly.

Growing up in Chowchilla, a community of about 16,000 along Freeway 99 and about 30 minutes north of Fresno, she remembers the difficulty she had as an aspiring collegiate swimmer.

"It was really tough every summer. The city would have to hire life guards. We really had to push it," said Natalia. "We only had one pool and one high school. And no one really want to come and watch a swim meet. It wasn't football."

"They wouldn't turn out the heaters for the pool. I offered to pay for it," said Ray Barragan,

Natalia graduated in 2009 with a 4.29 grade point average and school records in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events, the 100-yard butterfly, and the 200-yard individual medley. She also competed on the water polo team. Her mother Sandra Barragán, a math teacher at Chowchilla High, taught Natalia.

"Yeah, she actually gave me a B my sophomore year. She would call me sweetheart, but it was like having a permanent tutor to help with your homework," said Natalia.

In high school, Natalia often traveled to Clovis in search of a swim club, swimming in the same pool that U.S. gold medalist Michael Phelps competed in years earlier.

After high school, she pursued water polo at Pepperdine's club team. Natalia did not pursue the swim team until this year.

"I knew that swimming in college was a whole different thing than high school. I didn't think I could handle the course load and swimming," she said. "I missed it in my freshman and sophomore years."

A typical week for her consists of two practices a day, 19 class units, and, two jobs, one as a lifeguard, the other a Sunday school teacher.

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