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Valencia Swimmer makes a Splash
July, 2010 - Issue #69
Micaela Velasquez
Micaela Velasquez
Even if Micaela Velasquez didn't own a Foothill League record - which she does - or swim a time that gave her All-American consideration - which she did - she would still have loads of swimming success to her name.

Successes, for example, like helping a friend see that it's OK to hang out in the deep end of the pool. And, seeing that same friend swim the backstroke with ease now.

Velasquez is able to overlap her two passions: she trains to be a top swimmer, and she volunteers with Special Olympics, helping athletes of all ages become more comfortable in the pool.

"It's very dear to my heart," the Vikings junior says about Special Olympics. "Most of those kids wouldn't even get in the water. They had to very carefully use the stairs or wouldn't even get their toes wet, and now they're diving off the blocks and competing in their own races. It's precious and wonderful to see them swimming and doing something that they never thought they could."

She began volunteering with Special Olympics in junior high. Velasquez was in the "Yes I Can" class, where pupils have the opportunity to help special-needs students. The teacher knew Velasquez was a swimmer, so mentioned she might want to volunteer.

"I fell in love with the kids," Velasquez said, who was given the Youth Service Award in 2008 by the Special Olympics Santa Clarita region. "They are some of the nicest, most sincere people in the world."

While Velasquez's dedication to Special Olympics has been steady since junior high, her dedication to her swim career has changed dramatically over the last two years.

Now 16, she has been swimming since she was 6 years old, but Velasquez did not join a club team until after her freshman year at Valencia.

Before then, she was swimming more for the enjoyment she gets out of it.

"I always loved swimming, even when I was little. The City [of Santa Clarita] swim team served as a good foundation; that's when swimming became fun with friends and the coaches were always great, and they were always so nice and so supportive," Velasquez said.

But as Velasquez found, enjoying swimming was not enough if you want to compete at a high level.

It often means 5 a.m. practices, and then swimming again in the afternoon. There isn't a swim season so much as there is a swim year. As soon as the high school season ends, competitive club swimming takes over.

After making varsity as a freshman with no club swimming on her resume, she decided to take her sport more seriously.

"High school is very competitive. Much more competitive than the City," she said. "So I needed that extra push to get to the next level."

She joined the Canyons Aquatic Club after her first high school season and now, as a junior, the Valencia High record books have her name splashed all over them.

"She might have been kind of a surprise to some of her competitors, but I knew she was going to have a great year," said Vikings head coach Mike Bechtholdt, who is also Velasquez's club coach. "She was due for it."

That great year included breaking the Foothill League record in the 200-meter freestyle at league finals in May. She took eighth in the same event at the CIF-Southern Section Division I finals, qualifying her to compete in the CIF-SS Masters Meet. The Masters Meet allows the top swimmers, regardless of school divisions, to compete against one another. Velasquez placed sixth with a personal best of 1:52.56, a time that earned her All-American consideration (All-American times are standardized by the National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association and nationally recognized). She has about another second to shave off to hit the All-American automatic time.

Not surprisingly, after those performances, people are starting to take notice - especially at Division I colleges. The recruiting letters are starting to come in, not only because of her natural talent and mostly-untapped potential, but also because she's earned a 4.25 grade-point average in the classroom.

"She holds herself to a really high standard," Bechtholdt said. "That always keeps her hungry and it's really funny, she's not a kid that wants to go out and beat other people. She really internalizes her goals. If she doesn't reach them, it just makes her want to try harder to reach those goals and is more dedicated than she was before, which is hard to do."

In swimming, you try to hit your mark. In life, you try to leave a mark.

Micaela Velasquez has managed to do both.
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