Meet All-State Swimmer Talia Bugel

When speaking with states-bound swimmer Talia Bugel, it’s easy to tell that the enthusiastic junior has a full-speed-ahead attitude about almost everything. Whether it’s in the water or in her schoolwork, she is a leader who generates a spark wherever she goes.

While she has a light-hearted side to her, Talia also is a fierce competitor who relentlessly pursues her craft. It’s that persistence and resolute character that have earned her a third trip in as many years to the PIAA Class 3A swimming and diving championships this week. She will swim the 100 backstroke, for which she won a silver medal at WPIALs a few weeks ago, and race as a member of the 200-medley and 200-freestyle relay teams. Talia’s leg in the top-ranked 200 medley is the backstroke, and she is the lead in the 200 freestyle.

Beginning when she was a freshman, Talia made a huge splash for the Foxes, breaking multiple school records as an individual and as a member of the Foxes relay teams. Even so, she still spends at least 18 hours a week practicing, and she uses the latest in swimming science to help her drop her times.

Talia explains, “The biggest thing I’m trying to improve is my tempo, so I’ve been working with a tempo trainer (pacing device). My tempo needs to be a lot faster. For the 100, you just have to go out and go. I’m trying to get better at that and just improve every small detail. I’m hoping that all this hard work I’m putting in will get me something good.”

Talia has always been naturally good in the backstroke, but she has been trying out other events, too, including the grueling 500 free. Talia’s best friend and teammate, Sophie Shao, who also is making a three-peat trip to states, says, “Talia is extremely hardworking in the water and has improved in so many areas this year. She wasn’t a 500 freestyler before this year, and she’s worked her butt off in that event. She was able to drop so much time this season. She doesn’t let one stroke (backstroke) define her.”

As good as she is in the water, Talia has other passions that get her equally as excited and she talks about them in her endearing, enthusiastic manner. (Spoiler: She uses the word “love” a lot!)

“I love learning and learning about U.S. history,” says Talia. “I love reading … don’t even get me started! Sherlock Holmes, that’s my very favorite. I read the first edition of Sherlock Holmes four times! I also like to read the night before meets until I fall asleep because it calms me down, and I read books on my phone at meets. I’ll even just read textbooks. I basically have a book with me all the time.”

Talia, who envisions a future career as an attorney or FBI analyst, adds a story about her pastime the summer before her freshman year. “I watched a lot of documentaries that summer about World War I and World War II. I just think history and government are cool. When I got to school, I thought, ‘I already know all of this!’ ”

Discovering the Water

Talia had tried a few sports before deciding on swimming, beginning with gymnastics, but she didn’t like it. She tried diving, but she really didn’t care for that, either. Then, she asked her mom to let her try swimming. That was a hit, and when she first discovered her love of the water. Soon afterward, she started taking swim lessons. The head instructor saw so much potential in her that she told Talia she should move up to a club team.

“I had this awesome coach, Coach Ted, when I was about 10 years old, and he really got me going,” says Talia, who now swims for the Killer Whales, head coach Dan Taylor’s club team. “Coach Ted was the first person who really helped me learn my strokes, and I love him. I’ve been growing ever since.”

An inspiration along the way was Maya DiRado, who swam the 200 backstroke at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Talia recalls watching that event, saying, “She out-touched her opponent, who was leading. It was the best finish I’ve ever seen. She’s now a doctor, super smart and athletic. My dream would be to meet her someday.”

Talia also credits her teammates, mother, and brother as strong influences in her life. “My brother is my biggest motivator, and his life advice is very good. My mom is brilliant, caring, and kind, and has helped me to accomplish my goals in other ways.”

Her teammates also hold a very special place in her heart and encourage her. Talia says, “I just love my teammates, and they always support me in anything I do. I love going to practices. It’s the best part of my day.”

Last week, Talia had another very good day when she made a verbal commitment to Bucknell University. She still has a year to go before she graduates from high school, but she says she is thrilled with her decision. “I love the (swimming) coach and the campus, and they have the major I’m looking for – political science. I’d also like to minor in psychology.”

In the meantime, the speedy racer’s sights are set on the March 16 and 17 PIAA championships at what is now a very familiar place for Talia – Bucknell. On the first day of the event, Talia will compete in the two relays, and the following day, she will swim the 100 backstroke. Last year, she swam it immediately following the 500 freestyle, so she is looking forward to being more rested this time.

“I’m just so excited,” she says. “This is the largest group going to states ever, and there are going to be a lot of good competitors.”