Splash and burn: Swimmer Megan Burns reflects on record-breaking career at UB
Megan Burns didn’t want to swim in college.
During her senior year of high school, Megan said she was lazy, unmotivated and unwilling to put effort into swimming and academics. She got into fights with her mom and coaches as they pushed her toward the pool. Megan’s mother Kim had to constantly step in to encourage her not to quit.
One year later, she competed at the 2015 Mid-American Conference Swimming and Diving Championships. Megan raced in the 50 and 100-yard freestyle events. She won both.
“I will break records,” then-freshman swimmer Megan Burns told The Spectrum in 2015. “And I will try to be better than any swimmer before I graduate.”
She doesn’t remember saying that, but the record books do. With seven school records to her name, she firmly planted herself as one of, if not the best swimmers in school history.
Top athlete, top student
“That’s nice,” Megan said in response to that title.
“Based off the times, I’m the best sprinter. I don’t think in history,” she said. “I guess I’m the best sprinter so far.”
UB swimming and diving coach Andy Bashor can list her other qualifications.
“In terms of overall accomplishments, she is a two-time UB student athlete of the year, one-time MAC swimmer of the year. She’s won the 50 and 100 free all four years, the 200 free last year,” Bashor said. “So, she has nine individual titles, school records on relays in the 50 and 100. She has had a tremendous impact. She was an Olympic trial qualifier.”
Megan holds seven total school record times. Individually, she holds the records in the 50 and 100-yard freestyle. She shares the record for the 200 and 400-yard medley relay and the 200, 400 and 800-yard freestyle relay with other teammates.
According to Megan’s younger sister and teammate sophomore swimmer Katelyn Burns, former UB swimmer Mallory Morell inspired Megan. Morell and Megan went to the same high school and were good friends. Morell formerly held the records in the 50-yard freestyle and the 200-free relay, until Megan broke them.
While on the same team, the sisters said they are not competitive. Katelyn looks up to Megan and uses that as motivation to get faster. With a career best time of 23.19 seconds in the 50, Katelyn still has time to reach her sister’s record time of 22.04 seconds.
“As a younger kid, you always want to be better than your brother or sister,” Bashor said. “As an older kid, yeah not yet, maybe later. It’s a really good dynamic that they have.”
Megan excelled in the classroom, making the academic All-MAC team in two consecutive seasons. In order to qualify, student athletes must maintain a 3.2 GPA and compete in over half of their events. Megan made it with a 3.46 and 3.53 GPA as a nursing major in her junior and senior seasons, respectively.
“I don’t think our team gave her enough kudos for doing nursing and swimming at the same time,” Katelyn said. “It has definitely inspired some of the girls on our team to take on things like that too. She set a really great example of that, even for myself. She has given me something great to look up to.”
Megan began her nursing clinicals a few weeks before the MAC Championships this year. She’s successfully balanced being a top athlete while being a top student. Bashor said he will always know Megan as “the fastest girl to ever come out of the MAC.”
Changing her outlook
Megan began swimming competitively at eight years old. Even then, she felt like it was a hassle.
“I really didn’t want to swim,” Megan said. “My coach and my mom convinced me, saying ‘Don’t waste it. You might end up liking it.’ And I did.”
She claims to have never put in her best effort before UB. At Rush-Henrietta Sperry High School, Megan was named to the All-Greater Rochester team four years in a row and won sportsman of the year at the state championships her senior year.
With all of her accolades, Megan still wasn’t sure about swimming until an open camp where she met her new teammates and Bashor.
“I didn’t really start having fun until I met my friends here at UB,” Megan said. “My friends keep me interested in the sport. I love them all. They’re like my sisters.”
In her freshman year, she swam to an undefeated record of 52-0 in meets and earned team best times in the 50 and 100-yard freestyle events. Bashor’s guidance was a constant for all four of Megan’s seasons.
“We understood her background, knowing that it’s limited in training, knowing that she didn’t train all year,” Bashor said. “She had a certain skill set –– a good stroke –– everything there that if she really bought into what we were doing and really bought into being an elite student athlete that she could become that. She did it.”
Megan feels great about the success.
“I never tried very hard before and never did as well as I wanted,” she said. “Now that I’ve seen my results at UB, I know that I can go farther.”
Megan competed at Olympic trials the following season. Although she didn’t make the Olympic team, she successfully defended her MAC titles in the 50 and 100 freestyle as a sophomore. In her junior year, she would break all seven of her current school records.
Victory despite cuts
In April 2017, UB Athletics announced it was cutting four Division I sports teams including the men’s swimming and diving team. Bashor coached the team and the cuts severed the family atmosphere he created.
“It was really sad at first,” Megan said. “I was so dramatic. I was like, ‘Oh, it’s not going to be the same, like, this is over. This is going to suck.’”
For the first time in her career, Megan was not swimming alongside a competitive men’s team. There was a lot of uncertainty coming from a team that just saw half of its community cut.
“Honestly, when it actually came around and school started, the freshman class was awesome,” Megan said. “This sounds terrible, but I didn’t really notice. We were going to practice, you’re working hard and there’s more focus on us. We missed the guys for sure, but it sucks for them. There was less drama. It was hard, but we can do it.”
The team completed its best season in school history this year. The women’s swimming and diving team went undefeated and placed third overall at the MAC Championships in February, tying their best finish at the event.
Since the cuts, Bashor had to change his mentality towards the team and coaching.
“We’re not going to remember the times we swam. We’re going to remember the friendships,” Bashor said. “They’re going to remember these moments; to me that’s what college athletics is all about.”
Leaving the pool
In one word, Megan described her whole career as “unexpected,” in both swimming and nursing. Even her mom didn’t think Megan would get into nursing.
She made it to the NCAA Championships her sophomore and junior year while only missing out her freshman year by .016 seconds. Megan didn’t go into either event expecting to win.
“When you get to [NCAA Championships] you’re just like, ‘OK, there’s a lot of fast people and they’re faster than you,’” Megan said. “Olympic trials was just cool because I wasn’t trying to score there, but you got to see all the Olympians swim. I’m never going to go to the Olympics to watch, but I got to see them anyways.”
At the MAC Championships, she won gold in the 50 and 100-yard freestyle being the first ever MAC swimmer to win those events four years in a row. Megan did not meet the time requirement and missed out on NCAA Championships this season.
“I was kind of upset, but also kind of relieved,” she said. “School and swimming was getting to be too much. I wanted to go to watch, but I didn’t want to swim. It was sad, but I needed to be done. I was getting too stressed with swimming and school. It would have been nice to go, but I would’ve had to go alone.”
Going alone is something Megan never enjoyed. Without her teammates, she would never have been motivated to get to the point she’s at today. She’s stood atop the podium by herself enough times in her career that she’s gotten used to it. Other than her personal best times, she reminisces on her teammates’ successes.
“Last year, when we won the 200 free relay, I didn’t think we were going to and it was really close,” Megan said. “It’s mostly just remembering when my friends did well, because it’s really awesome when you see someone working hard and they finally get it.”
Although Megan doesn’t see herself living in Buffalo after college, she hopes her records stay here for a while. She knew she was not very fast before coming to UB and people have asked her why she didn’t go to a bigger school. Megan said she is thankful for Bashor for recruiting her.
“I don’t have any regrets,” Megan said. “It was a perfect fit.”
Nathaniel Mendelson is a staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org