While most of us can only dream of starring in a major motion picture alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood, starting a successful business or competing as an elite athlete, Megan Melgaard has actually accomplished all of these stunning feats. And she’s not slowing down anytime soon. After countless hours in the pool earned Megan the title of Junior National Champion, a college scholarship and a spot on the U.S. National Team, she launched a swimwear company and was invited to act in 2006’s The Guardian, starring Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Costner. As art imitated life, Megan played a Coast Guard rescue swimmer in training, and, after that experience, expanded her focus to include water safety initiatives.
The self-professed “Aquapreneur” now teaches swim lessons through her company Fix My Swim, while serving as Director of Events for Swim Across America, a nonprofit that hosts benefit swims to raise funds for cancer research and clinical trials.
Here, Megan tells us how she gets it all done and offers encouragement to help others take the necessary steps to make their dreams come true. Welcome Megan Melgaard as today’s FACE of the South.
How long have you been swimming?
I guess my mother would probably confirm that I was swimming in the womb, as most babies do. But we started a Mommy and Me class when I was 6 months old, and my mom said I just really took to the water. I was on my first summer swim team at the age of 4, my first year-round team at the age of 7, and then I started doing doubles, which means you have a practice before and after school.
My father worked in the military, so we moved around quite a bit, but one of the things that we found in each city was a pool. And I just continued to enjoy [swimming] and excel. I was a Junior National Champion when I was in my teens; I qualified for the Olympic trials; I got a scholarship to the University of Florida for swimming; and I made my first National Team in 1999.
After The Guardian, you spent a bit of time in California doing stunt work. Did you miss competing while you were acting?
At a certain point I decided to move back to Atlanta, where my mom and my sister and her husband and my three nephews live, and I ended up going back to the pool. I was training for Olympic trials, and I’ve more or less still been competing. I probably will do one more big swim meet this summer, and then hang up my goggles. Which I say, but it probably won’t really happen, because I still want to teach and compete for fun now.
How did you get involved with Swim Across America?
I was swimming with my friend Sheri Hart, who swam at USC and was on the National Team also, and she said, “Would you like to start this event called Swim Across America with me?” At the time I was a race director for a kids’ triathlon, so I said, “Of course!” So I got involved, and we started five years ago and have already raised over $1.25 million, just through swimming. Our tagline is “Making waves to fight cancer.” And we swim for kids, we swim for adults, we swim for survivors, we swim for people that are battling cancer now. We love to support people who are in the fight, in any way, shape or form that they are experiencing that path. We know how to swim, and this is our medium to help.
How does the organization raise money?
Each person signs up as an individual, or you can sign up to be a part of a team, and you get a personal fundraising page. Then you send that out to your friends and family. And we have a really strong contingency of junior board members led by Dr. Julie Granger, who swam at Duke and is a cancer survivor. And those kids will do spirit nights, pool parties, pool swims and pool clinics to raise funds. So locally, in Atlanta, I’m working on half a dozen supporting swims for our big open water event, which is September 23. And our goal this year is $500,000, because it’s our five-year anniversary.
Tell us about Fix My Swim.
Fix My Swim is the company that I started seven years ago. It’s focused, basically, on swim lessons. I like the highly technical aspect of swimming, so I like to help improve efficiency, technique and speed in the water for kids, triathletes, adults and beginners. And now I’m doing some fundraising clinics for Swim Across America through the Fix My Swim family.
You have so much going on! How do you balance and make everything work?
I have been asking myself the same question. I have some wonderful friends. My best friend is a great sounding board. My dog is a good balance to remind me that I need to get myself outside. I also sit down at the beginning of the day and prioritize what needs to be taken care of on that particular day, and then I try to bring myself back up to 30,000 feet to see the overarching picture of strategy and logistics for everything. And we have a wonderful [Swim Across America] committee in Atlanta and a wonderful team of event directors across the country. I just have a lot of faith in their abilities.
It seems like, throughout your story, you’ve said “yes” a lot — whether to act in a movie, start a business or launch a nonprofit. For our readers who may be considering some opportunities but are just afraid to say yes, what advice would you give them to step outside of their comfort zone and try new things?
You really never know until you try, and if you can use your internal compass to help guide you, I think a lot of us have the answers inside, but we have the tendency to bury them. So I would encourage people to uncover their internal compass and listen to their intuition, and rely on divine intervention, because it will point you the right way. I have the tendency to get in my own way at times, so I’d also say, take a step back and use the support system, or build a support system, that you can use as a sounding board. Say, “This is really where I think I should go, what do you think? What are the pros and cons?”
And at the end of the day, exercise caution. If you’re looking at a trail that has three different paths that you could take, it’s okay to go down one of them. But listen to yourself and know the way back, in case you decide, “OK, I don’t really feel good about this path that I have taken; I can go back and take another route.” More or less, just be aware and leave a trail of breadcrumbs.
What do you do when you feel your confidence starting to wane a little bit? How do you build it back up?
I listen to Oprah’s Meditation Experience, and to get a little insight, I take my dog for a walk in the park. And this is a really hard thing for me, but when I can stop and sit down and find some clarity and find the open space or the void in between my thoughts, oftentimes I’ll find the answer.
I also swim. Swimming is very, very meditative because you can turn off a lot of external noise. You can turn off the phone; nobody can call you or text 7,000 times. So once you go underwater you can really wash so many things away and get down to the root of really what makes you flow.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things that you can’t live without?
What’s coming up in my head is a pair of shoes. Because no matter where I go, I want to explore, and sometimes I travel so much that my home is where my shoes are. My phone, because it gives me the connection to be able to talk to my family, and send pictures, and keep records of things, and see my dog, and do all kinds of business. And nature. I don’t get it as much as I have access to my phone, but stepping away from your phone is sometimes divine.
Thank you to Megan for taking the time to chat with us. And thanks to Catrina Maxwell of CatMax Photography for the beautiful photos of Megan.
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