Margaux Verger Gourson and Sandra Soe have shared classes, a suite on the Hill and even the same major, sociology.
As the only two distance swimmers on the UCLA swimming team, they also share a demanding training schedule.
Verger Gourson, a senior, and Soe, a junior, begin their practices just like the rest of their teammates. But once warmups are over, the two branch off to do their own work.
“It’s actually kind of funny,” Soe said. “(Coach Cyndi Gallagher) will say, ‘OK, this is what we’re doing today – Oh, except you guys, you guys have something else. You can just go back to your lanes, then I’ll come over and tell you.’”
Soe and Verger Gourson spend a majority of their practices in their own lanes in Dirks Pool at Spieker Aquatics Center, where they train separately from the rest of the team.
“Having our own lane is kind of a privilege,” Verger Gourson said.
Getting to have a place to call their own in the pool is a perk considerng the extra long distances that they swim.
“Some people swim for 22 seconds,” Gallagher said. “Just 22 seconds. These girls race for 16 minutes. Nobody else really wants to do their events, but that’s what (Verger Gourson and Soe) are good at.”
Soe said that the other swimmers on their team – some who swim distances 30 times shorter than Soe and Verger Gourson’s longest race – recognize how hard she and Verger Gourson work.
“It’s pretty nice to have their support, and of course we support them in everything they do too,” Soe said.
They said they know to sometimes expect to swim up to 20 laps while the other swimmers complete just 10 to 14 – and they are OK with it.
“We’ve made our peace with it,” Verger Gourson said. “We know we need it, we know that’s what we are here to work on.”
Verger Gourson and Soe now spend many hours training together every week. The pair said that their training wouldn’t be possible if they didn’t share the same humor.
“We crack jokes with each other because it’s no fun just to swim back and forth without some humor in there,” Soe said.
Verger Gourson said she preferred swimming long distances with Soe to doing the short distance workouts with the team.
“I honestly feel like we would rather swim by ourselves than do the sprint sets sometimes,” Verger Gourson said. “I really appreciate training with (Soe) because we work out, but we do it in a way that’s still light. We definitely challenge each other and it’s a fun time more than anything else.”
But earlier this season, the pair didn’t get to practice together for a while. Verger Gourson suffered a back injury early in her collegiate swimming career while she was a student at the University of the Pacific. This year, she was forced to take time off from training to recover from it.
Verger Gourson returned to the pool about halfway through the 2017-2018 season. Although she was eager to jump back into her own lane, she had to start back slow.
“I knew that I really wanted to go back to (Soe’s) group because she was doing distance and I wasn’t there anymore,” Verger Gourson said. “It was just a cool dynamic to be catching up to her at my own pace but still having her keeping me in even though I wasn’t actually physically in yet.”
Soe said Verger Gourson’s recovery has inspired her to push through tough moments during training.
“I would be like, ‘(Verger Gourson) literally had a broken back,’” Soe said. “I would tell myself, ‘I haven’t broken my back, so if (Verger Gourson) can do this I can for sure do it too.’”
Verger Gourson and Soe train together in practice, but frequently compete in the same events at swim meets. Gallagher said the two have pushed each other to become stronger competitors.
“(Verger Gourson)’s definitely made (Soe) better since she’s been more consistent now that she’s back, and I think chasing (Soe) has made (Verger Gourson) better,” Gallagher said. “If (Soe) did great and (Verger Gourson) didn’t do well, (Soe) wouldn’t feel good about her swim.”
At the UCLA versus USC swim meet Feb. 9, the two competed in both the 1650 free and the 500 free. Soe took home a win – and a new pool record – in the 1650 and a second place finish in the 500. Verger Gourson took first in the 500 and second in the 1650, flip-flopping with Soe for the first two spots in both races.
“They both want to win,” Gallagher said. “But, I honestly think they’d probably be the happiest if they both tied for first. If one touches ahead of the other, she’ll be like ‘Did she make it? Did she swim fast?’”
In the 500 free, Verger Gourson beat out Soe by the smallest possible margin – just 0.01 seconds.
“(Soe) beat (Verger Gourson) in the mile, not by much, and then the 500 happened,” Gallagher said. “They were both just really happy for each other. They care about each other, which makes them great role models for the team.”
Soe said this meet was her favorite swimming memory with Verger Gourson and that it showed how similar they are to each other.
“We went one-two in the (1650 free) and you could see (Verger Gourson) catching up in the 500,” Soe said. “Really, we touched pretty much at the same time.”