When the Virginia women’s swimming and diving team won its fourth-consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference championship last March in Atlanta, Meredith and Lauren Perdue were two of the 18-member scoring team that celebrated by splashing around in the water.
The Cavaliers had made history – never before had the women claimed four titles in a row.
And yet, their father, Phil Perdue, was already a part of the program’s storied history. In 1980 he became Virginia’s first swimming All-American under then-second year head coach Mark Bernardino.
“Phil and I actually, in a way, came to UVa together,” Bernardino said. “When I came back to be an assistant coach, Phil was a first year. I didn’t have the opportunity to write the workouts at that time, but I had the chance to be on deck and watch him compete. His third year was then my first year as the head coach.”
“Mark was sort of ‘the swimmer’s coach’ because he wasn’t that far out of school and he really understood the rigors of training,” Phil Perdue said. “We both wanted to do everything we could to help the team get better. We knew the work that was necessary to make those early strides. It took a little while but he really built the team one person at a time.”
Phil Perdue was a Lawn resident in 1980 and graduated as a three-time ACC champion, two-time All-American and school record holder in the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle events. He was also the first UVa swimmer to appear in the world rankings.
“It’s easy to forget a lot of times because this program has so many greats,” Meredith Perdue said. “For him to be the first All-American is an awesome thing and we are really proud of him. He really helped start this program’s ascension into greatness. It’s cool to know that my dad had a hand in that.”
“Phil was a tremendous sprinter and one of UVa’s first great swimmers,” Bernardino said. “He was a contender for the 1980 Olympic Team, which unfortunately would not come to be because of the U.S. boycott. But it was a great privilege for me as a young coach to work with an athlete of that ability.”
Meredith, a fourth year, and Lauren, a third year, were both born in Charlottesville. They don’t remember growing up here, but they can tell you where their first house was over on Shamrock Road.
They can also tell you how much the University of Virginia was a part of their lives even before coming to school. In addition to Phil’s swimming legacy, their mother Tammy, attended nursing school at UVa after she finished her swimming career at William & Mary. Phil remained at UVa to attend medical school and later completed his residency.
“It’s always been a place that was near and dear to our hearts,” Meredith Perdue said. “We came back for football games and swim meets every now and then. We’ve just always grown up loving UVa.”
Lauren added: “We felt from a young age that we had a connection with this program and with the University itself. We’ve known Mark for a really long time and he has been a close family friend.”
When Meredith enrolled at UVa and joined the swimming team in the fall of 2008, she and Phil became the first father-daughter duo to compete under Bernardino.
“I remember my dad telling me that this would be the hardest thing I would ever have to do in my life,” she said. “Mark has high expectations for the team and with that comes a very strong work ethic. He told me if I could get through this, everything else in my life that I do after would be easier. He said the same was true for him. Medical school, and everything after, was nothing compared to the work he did here with Mark.”
When Lauren joined the team a year later, it was clearly an advantage having her older sister at her side.
“Having her here was a huge attraction for me,” Lauren Perdue said. “I have grown up with her right by my side everyday. It is really exciting to be able to swim with her everyday. She is a great encourager and has really helped me through the different obstacles that we have come across. I love being on this team with her.”
Meredith, a double major in biology and religious studies, had a breakout year in 2010-11. She earned a spot on the scoring team at the conference championships and recorded significant points for the Cavaliers in three different events.
“It’s great seeing the girls compete,” Phil Perdue said. “Some days I can barely speak, I am just so proud when I see them on the blocks. It’s been a dream to be able to have them not only at a great university but I can also get to the majority of the meets.”
Lauren, an anthropology major, was named the 2011 ACC Swimmer of the Year following her national runner-up finish in the 200 freestyle at the NCAA Championships. She has already set conference records in both the 100 freestyle and 200 freestyle and holds the Virginia record in the 50 freestyle.
“It’s clear Meredith possesses all of Phil’s work ethic, mental toughness and fortitude in the training pool,” Bernardino said. “Lauren inherited both his and Tammy’s unbelievable God-given speed and talent, along with the mental toughness component.”
The two sisters spend a lot of time with each other. Not only do they practice in the same training group, they have also been roommates for the past two years.
“People always ask us how we are so close and how we manage not to fight all the time,” Meredith Perdue said. “Truthfully, we used to not be as close, but we have matured and realized how special our relationship is. The tiny things we do argue about don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.”
“For me, when we were able to live together, that has made us a lot closer,” Lauren Perdue added. “We have kind of grown up together in college. So many people don’t get to go to college with their sibling, so it’s really special.”