Just keep swimming: an athlete’s success story

Bryan Yuk, Chief Reporter

It was the last event of the 2020-2021 Suffolk County Championship Meet, the 100-yard breaststroke. Senior Michael J. was right behind the diving blocks, minutes away from his first stroke. 

“Before my race, I was very nervous, because I wanted to win my event. As the event got closer, all my thoughts [gradually] disappeared. By the time I lined up behind the blocks, I just went blank and only focused on my race. It was all instinct at that point,” said Michael J. 

Michael ended up winning the event, becoming the MVP of the meet. However, before reaching such a high point in his athletic career, Michael solely swam as a way to stay healthy, as he was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease at a young age. 

“My parents wanted me to get into a sport so I could ensure my health. So, I [tried] multiple sports such as soccer, tennis, and badminton. Eventually, when I was 8-9, I tried swimming out, and my parents thought I enjoyed it, so it became my current sport,” said Michael J. 

Michael wasn’t particularly strong at swimming in the beginning, and he didn’t enjoy it too much. 

“I think at first I just did it because my parents told me to. I also hated going to practice a lot of times. Sometimes, I had to skip time with my friends because I had to go to practice. I would also have to sleep early because of morning practices when I would rather be playing video games. I wasn’t one of the fastest swimmers [either],” said Michael J. 

Even so, Michael persevered, practicing on a consistent basis. Then, at a Suffolk County club swimming championships in 2018, Michael finally saw his hard work pay off. 

“I think a turning point in my career was at the 2018 County Championships. This was the meet I defined myself as a breaststroker, and I also won a decent amount of events. After this swim meet, I felt the excitement of winning an event, which I never experienced before. I thought it was really gratifying because you always have around 100 competitors for each event, making winning extremely difficult,” said Michael J. 

At that point, Michael realized his love for swimming. Overtime, his passion continued to grow. 

“The joy of winning, the friends I’ve made through swimming, the fun trips I would go on with them, made me enjoy the sport [more each day] until it became my passion today,” said Michael J. 

Today, Michael continues to put in great effort towards swimming. He consistently practices 6 days a week, goes to the gym 3 times a week, and always pushes himself every workout. He also watches his caloric intake, to ensure he can lose weight while maintaining his current strength. 

Throughout the years, he’s learned a lot from swimming, and has applied it to his life outside of the pool. 

“Swimming really has provided me with discipline, and a sense of following a daily routine. Obviously, there are times when I don’t want to go to practice, but the discipline [I’ve developed from swimming] makes me [attend]. It makes me productive. I think that this is an important skill that’ll be useful as I go into college when I deal with the problem of procrastination,” said Michael J.

Looking back, Michael also attributes a major part of his success to the people who supported him throughout his athletic career.

“I think my coach, John Pisano, really shaped me into the swimmer I am today. People call him very strict and rude at times, but I feel like that just shows he really cares. If you get to know him, [you learn] he’s a nice person who knows a lot about swimming. He directed me into becoming a better swimmer. Another person that’s been really important in these coming years is my teammate Noah Cakir. Prior to him, I didn’t have anyone that was super close to my times, and as he’s grown, he’s become much better than me at swimming. That just motivates me even more to just get to that next level and try to reach him. And finally, my parents and my brother. My brother has always been involved and interested in my swimming, giving me helpful advice that I use inside or outside of swimming. My parents have always been there, providing the resources, driving me to practice, and paying for very expensive trips. They put in a lot of time and effort towards me in doing what I love,” said Michael J. 

In the future, Michael intends on continuing swimming at Amherst College, a small liberal arts school in Amherst, Massachusetts. Swimming at the D3 college level, Michael has an athletic career goal. 

“I would like to win an event at the NCAA Division Three Championship, which is a lofty goal in mind. To win there, you would have to be good enough to be a top D1 swimmer. I would basically be saying I want to be good as a D1 athlete by the time I finish college, but I don’t think it’s impossible. I think if I just work hard and swim a lot, I’ll probably reach it,” said Michael J. 

For any athletes trying to succeed in sports, Michael has a message.

“I’m not a person with big words, but If I’m going to say something, it’s that you shouldn’t put too much pressure on yourself to be the best and you shouldn’t take too much pressure from others as well. At a certain point, if you keep that pressure for too long, you won’t succeed, and you’ll probably fail. That goes for a lot of my life. The things I did well in my life were the things that I didn’t really feel pressured to do. I just kind of did them daily, even if I wasn’t good, and it just ended up to a point where each incremental effort made me a little better every single time, until one point, I became pretty good at it,” said Michael J. 🔳