BYU senior swimmer Natasha Menezes. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
What happens when two BYU swimmers fall in love and their children decide to swim? It creates a five-time Mountain West Conference champion, a multiple BYU and MWC record holder and 69 first-place finishes.
However it’s not just genetics that make such a great athlete. It takes heart and hard work from 5-foot-7, dynamic distance swimmer, American Studies major, medical school candidate and senior captain Natasha Menezes.
Menezes was born in Modesto, Calif. and moved around to Utah, Arizona, back to California and ended up going to high school in Colorado where her parents, Ron and Melanie, have chosen to permanently reside.
Living in new and different places was not something new for the Menezes family. Menezes’ father, Ron, came from Brazil to a strange country for college, being recruited to swim for Brigham Young University.
“A colleague had a friend that got to know [BYU Head Coach] Tim [Powers] and Tim called me out of the blue and said he was interested in seeing my times,” said Ron. “I didn’t know anything about BYU, but I thought it would be neat to learn. I only planned on staying for two years, but I fell in love with the school and the swim program and stayed all four years.”
Ron Menezes and Melanie Rile met on the BYU swim team where they both swam for the Cougars, eventually falling in love and getting married.
“They dated on and off their entire time at BYU and decided to get married after they graduated,” said Menezes. “The coaches never wanted their swimmers to have team romances, but now that it worked out, they don’t mind taking the credit.”
“Melanie was my first All-American,” said current BYU associate head coach Stan Crump. “Tim likes to take credit for her and Ron getting together, saying that Natasha and [her younger sister] Michelle wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for him.”
While it is unclear why things happen the way they do, both Powers and Crump are happy the Menezes sisters chose to swim for the Cougars.
Michelle and Natasha Menezes are 15 months apart, Natasha being the oldest. They don’t have any other siblings, but have spent their whole lives walking – and swimming – stride-for-stride together.
The 2009-10 swimming season marks Natasha’s senior year for BYU. Looking back on her four years as a Cougar, and her whole life as a swimmer, Menezes will miss the friendships and the competitive spirit found in the sport of swimming.
“My parents didn’t put us in swimming necessarily because they wanted us to become swimmers,” said Menezes. “We did a lot of other sports too. We did soccer, volleyball, track, basketball and tap dance. The option was always up to us with what we wanted to do.”
Menezes began swimming competitively at age seven and threw out all the other sports before she began middle school. She loved the sport of swimming and enjoyed the middle-distance events and the individual medley.
“In high school I vowed to never swim the distance events ever again, like the mile,” she said. “And that’s what I have swam every year here at BYU.”
Swimming for Cherry Creek High School, Menezes had a lot of fun memories including winning state her junior and senior years, dance parties on the bus, not shaving her legs for the entire swim season and walking onto the pool deck before meets wearing fireman hats and blasting “Fireman” by Lil Wayne.
The Menezes family connections with BYU made it an easy choice for BYU to recruit Menezes and for Menezes to choose BYU following her high school career.
“BYU was always my first choice,” said Menezes. “Stanford was my second choice, but I would have received more scholarship money from BYU, so I came here for that and for other obvious reasons.”
Menezes’ persistence and great work ethic landed her a spot on the BYU swimming team, soon earning the top spot on the distance team.
Melanie describes that what her daughter has accomplished in the pool reflects how she is in other facets of her life.
“She demands a lot from herself,” said Melanie. “Once she puts her mind to something she is always trying to attain excellence. As a daughter she has always respected us, had really good manners and always tried to be a good kid.”
To describe her never-back-down attitude, Melanie related a story about Menezes slipping in the shower during her sophomore season at BYU, causing her to get 50 stitches on her shin. Always thinking about her team members, she was back swimming in a dual meet a couple days later.
“I really respect her,” said Melanie. “Even more so when her team is counting on her to perform well, that’s when she pulls deep within herself to swim her best. She doesn’t let anything hold her down.”
BYU associate head coach Stan Crump recruited Menezes and has been pleased with his top distance swimmer over the years.
“She is a great competitor and an automatic win in a dual meet,” said Crump. “Whenever we need her to swim something, she can swim it. She is a fierce competitor.”
Her father, Ron, describes Menezes’ competitive spirit as something that guides her life.
“When we were living in Phoenix we drove down to Tucson for a meet and Natasha said how she was going to beat so-and-so, one of the top 10 swimmers in the nation,” said Ron. “She did just that. When she puts something in her mind, she gets it done. She has the same determination to finish anything else in her life as well.”
Menezes describes her most memorable moment at BYU being something that happened at the beginning of this season. The Cougars competed against MWC-opponent, UNLV, on Oct. 30, 2009 where Menezes competed in the 200 and 500 free.
She had been chasing her mother’s 500 free BYU pool record set in 1982 her entire career at BYU, and with her mother in attendance, she broke the record that stood for 27 years, along with the 200 free pool record that same night.
“Out of all the awards and titles I have received while at BYU, swimming for my team and breaking my mom’s record is the most special moment I have had here,” said Menezes. “I know it seems kind of trivial, but being a senior I am more sentimental and I realize it is something that I will always remember and something I will always cherish. Since my mom was there, I was able to touch and then look up at her – it was very special.”
Her mother, Melanie, describes that race as an exciting time in her life as well.
“It was a great moment for both of us,” said Melanie. “It was as if life was coming back full circle. It’s always been a family joke that someone needed to break the record to keep it in the family. When she touched the wall and looked at her time, she immediately looked in the stands for me and smiled. I think she felt my pride and I felt hers, it was a moment that I will remember forever.”
Menezes also describes the broken record as something that she did for her team.
“I know that while I was swimming that event I wasn’t swimming for myself,” said Menezes. “I was swimming for my team. We have a great team this year and I feel like all the girls are really close. Being able to break my mom’s record and having the support of the team made it a very memorable race for me.”
This selfless attitude is characteristic of Menezes. Her sister, Michelle, describes her as always wanting to help out her team and others in any way she can.
“She is very dedicated and hard-working in anything she does,” said Michelle. “She has a lot of passion for swimming and for school. She is also very willing to go the extra mile to help other people out and make them feel good.”
With her team sitting undefeated at the top of the Mountain West Conference, Menezes’ unprecedented dedication to the team has led to five individual MWC titles and three MWC team championships, with an anticipated four-peat title this year.
Along with conference championship goals, Menezes hopes to make it to the NCAA meet this year, a task she has yet to accomplish in her swimming career.
“My coach says that the best chance I have to make it to NCAAs in is the mile,” said Menezes. “The one event that I never wanted to swim again when I was in high school is the one that makes me most hopeful for realizing my goal.”
She also added to the senior season to-do list, a team conference win and a relay making it to the national championship meet. Describing how she feels about finishing her swimming career, Menezes has mixed feelings.
“I am grateful to have been able to swim, but I am excited to soon move on with my life,” said Menezes. “I am going to go to medical school and I will have more time to focus on that. But at the same time swimming has been such a big part of my life, it has really shaped me who I am, so it will be really weird without it.”
Michelle also has mixed feelings about her sister graduating, but explains that it probably won’t hit her until the conference championship meet.
“I am definitely upset that she’s graduating,” said Michelle. “I have really enjoyed having her swim by my side, but I am also excited to take on her reign and keep the family tradition alive.”
After taking medical school prerequisite classes, Menezes will graduate in December and will take the MCAT in January to start medical school as soon as possible. She is interested in studying dermatology, but is still unsure of where her career path will lead her.
Down the road, Menezes hopes to continue to run marathons and return back to Colorado.
“Even though I have lived in a lot of different places, Colorado feels like home,” she said. “Michelle and I have already made a pact that we are going to live close to each other.”
While many may look at Menezes’ swimming career and express that it was just in her blood to be a fantastic swimmer, through hard work and dedication Menezes has achieved her goals and will continue to inspire all those around her with her contagious work ethic and zest for life.