By Kevin Jakhahi
Tribune-Herald Sports Writer
Three times a week, Rachel Shimizu is up before the sun, already in the pool and working on her craft for 90 minutes. Her swimming continues five times a week in the afternoons for two hours — part of the small dots in a routine she started when she was 10 years old.
The Waiakea senior has seen her lifelong passion pay off in something substantial — a scholarship from California State University-East Bay, a Division II school in Hayward, Calif.
“I’ve been doing that at an early age. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. The pool is my friend,” Shimizu joked about swimming 12,000 yards with Warrior Aquatic Club coach Dan Lyons and 5,000 yards with club senior coach Justin Pierce.
That adds up to roughly 10 miles per week in the pool — much more than a testament to Shimizu’s endurance. It’s also a life lesson from her parents, Kenneth and Lory Shimizu, as well as her two club coaches.
“They’ve taught me about perseverance,” Shimizu said. “A lot of swimmers will have a bad time in their last two years, and burn out. But you have to love the sport and what you do, and push through it. You’ll come out on the other side with better results.”
Her mom, who works as a sales rep for Design Tees Hawaii, which manufactures the popular Hawaiian Legends T-shirts, pointed out the lesson of perseverance extends beyond the pool. Rachel’s dad is an auto mechanic instructor at Hawaii Community College.
“It’s about working hard every day, whether you like it or not,” Lory Shimizu said. “It carries over to school and makes you better in school as well.”
Rachel, who aspires to work in health care after college, is holding a 3.4 grade-point average, despite long days working to improve her two individual events, the 200- and 500-yard freestyle.
And she never stops swimming.
The past two summers, she competed at the Speedo Blue Senior sectional in Federal Way, Wash. She was also on the 2010 USA swimming select team and competed in the Oceania Swim Championship in Samoa.
During the summer, Rachel volunteers at the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s swim program. If the pool is her friend, she has a good reason why she’s rarely out of the water.
“I love my coaches. They become kind of your family,” she said. “I look at coach Dan as my second dad. He pushes me hard, but he gives me life lessons, advice and the same thing with coach Justin.
“I love the people I compete with and train with. It’s the reason why I’ll work at 5:30 a.m. in the morning. It’s all about the team.”
Asked her proudest moment, Rachel didn’t point to her Hawaii High School Athletic Association state title in the 500 free in 2010, or collection of Big Island Interscholastic Federation gold medals in the 200 and 500 free as a freshman and sophomore.
“It’s about challenging myself,” she said. “I’ve learned how to overcome new challenges. It’s helped me become a better athlete and teammate. It’s helped shape my character.
“I’ve learned that swimming is not about an individual or accomplishments. It’s about supporting your teammates and your teammates supporting you, and everything being as a whole.”
When she heads off to college, the competition grows a lot tougher. Cal State East Bay competes in the Pacific Collegiate Swim and Dive Conference, a conglomeration of Division I, II, III and NAIA schools.
Rachel has worked hard in every aspect, not only in class and the pool, but also in landing her scholarship. She went on berecruited.com and sent out 70 letters.
“I’m hoping I’m an inspiration to other athletes in all sports,” she said, already a role model to her 12-year-old sister KeLee, who’s in the seventh grade and also swims.
On a perfect blue-sky day at Naeole Pool on the Kamehameha campus, Lory Shimizu put into perspective the connection between commitment and chasing that scholarship carrot.
“If your kids want to go to college and play sports, they have to work for it and love it, too,” she said. “And when you work on getting your own scholarship, you’ll appreciate the opportunity to go to school.”
Then her daughter had a practice to attend. Rachel never stops swimming. And the pool, a lifelong friend, was waiting.
“We’re just overwhelmed and so thankful,” said Lory Shimizu, in a proud parent moment, watching her daughter head back into her routine to work on her craft.