Linda Escobar and Alex Haddox are surprised by how much they have in common.
Both are juniors-to-be at Santa Monica High. Both play water polo for the Vikings. Both of their fathers are psychiatrists and instructors at UCLA. Both would like to study medicine.
And both have qualified for their first national swimming competition, the junior nationals at Austin, Tex., now through Saturday, a meet that draws about 300 participants.
"We really got to know each other better after making the nationals," Haddox said. "That's when we found out we had so much in common."
John Apgar, who coaches the girls swim team, the boys junior varsity swim team and the junior varsity water polo team at Santa Monica, finds other similarities between the two teen-agers.
"They both have good attitudes and good talent," he said while watching them swim side by side in the Santa Monica College pool. "But the secret of their success is that they've both improved rapidly each year in relation to their peers."
Escobar, for example, has lowered her time in the 50-yard freestyle from 27 seconds three years ago to 25.3 in 1985 to 24.5 this year. As a sophomore, she was the varsity team's most valuable swimmer and now holds school records in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle and the 100-yard butterfly.
Haddox finished fifth in the 100- and 200-yard backstroke at the Junior Olympics in spring of 1985. One year later, he finished third in those events at the CIF finals and established the varsity marks at Santa Monica in the 100-yard butterfly and the 100-yard backstroke.
Escobar, 15, will swim in the 50-meter freestyle race and Haddox, 16, will compete in the 100-meter backstroke in Austin.
Both were expected to meet the time standard for the national competition in the 100-meter butterfly. Neither did. And that's where their commonalities finally end.
Escobar has been swimming for 10 years, ever since a 15-year-old girl, Susan Trapp, taught her the basic strokes, so Escobar could take advantage of the pool in her backyard. Since then, Escobar has won more than 100 medals and ribbons.
"My life revolves around swimming," said Escobar, who was a lifeguard at the Santa Monica College pool last winter and taught swimming to 12-year-olds this summer.
"I skipped the eighth grade because I wanted to swim for Santa Monica High," she said shyly, blushing from the attention. "My test scores and grades were good enough and all I needed was a tutor for pre-algebra and English over the summer."
Escobar's athletic skills, however, are restricted to the watery environment. But Haddox, who is a relative newcomer to competitive swimming, is an all-around athlete.
Although Haddox had his first swimming lesson about 15 years ago, he was more interested in mastering karate.
He said he was "just sitting around the house getting fat" when he decided to take karate lessons at a school in his neighborhood. He quickly progressed and finished second in his classification in an international tournament at Long Beach in 1983.
He has since switched his attention to pentathlons, a four-day, five-event competition that includes a 300-meter swim, a 600-meter horse jumping event, epee fencing, a shooting event and 4-K cross-country run.
"I went to the Olypmic Pentathlon in San Antonio three years ago and they told me that I could be a very good pentathlete if I took up swimming," Haddox said. "So, I did."
And for the last few months, he and Escobar have been training together, twice a day, with the Tandem Santa Monica club and Coach Apgar at the Santa Monica College pool. The club, which includes swimmers from Culver City, last sent participants to the junior nationals in 1983.
"It's really nice to have someone to train with," Haddox said. "We help and support each other. And it's great to look over with your head in the water and know you're both working for the same thing."