Baldwin student splashes her way to Olympics trials

Baldwin freshman Valerie Yoshimura, is one of five 14-year-olds in the country to qualify for the U.S. Swimming Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., June 25-July 2.
Baldwin freshman Valerie Yoshimura, is one of five 14-year-olds in the country to qualify for the U.S. Swimming Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., June 25-July 2. (Courtesy: Baldwin School)

The minute she finished her 100-meter butterfly swim, Valerie Yoshimura came up for air and was greeted with thunderous applause and congratulatory cheers from her coach, teammates and family.

Gladwyne resident Yoshimura, 14, knew the praise meant one thing – she made the cut for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Neb.

“It felt like a crazy dream…I’m so excited that it hasn’t quite sunken in yet,” Yoshimura said.

Yoshimura swam the preliminary event at the Indianapolis Grand Prix in 1:01.90, which led to her being one of five 14-year-olds in the country to qualify for the trials in the 100-meter butterfly.

The Suburban Seahawks swimmer is also vying for two other events, the 100-meter freestyle and the 200 individual medley. Yoshimura will participate in the UltraSwim in Charlotte, NC., in May to qualify for both events’ Olympic trials.

Regardless of her success at the UltraSwim, Yoshimura’s family and swimming colleagues are thrilled over her opportunity.

“Her mom contacted me when [Valerie] got it, and I was surprised by how I reacted,” said Dave Hart, Baldwin’s Aquatic Director. “My reaction was, ‘good, of course she did,’ and there was no shock or doubt in mind she was going to do well.”

Hart has known Yoshimura since she was four. Hart said he and Yoshimura’s Suburban coach, Charlie Kennedy, knew early on she’d be able to compete in the trials; it was just a matter of when.

Kennedy has known Yoshimura joined Suburban when she was 10, and said it's been rewarding seeing her and her teammates grow as atheletes. Kennedy accompanied Yoshimura and her three other Suburban teammates to the Grand Prix.

"It was impressive how well she placed, especially considering her young age as compared to many of the swimmers in the meet," Kennedy said in an e-mail. "When Val achieve the Olympic Trial cut in the 100-meter butterfly... I was so jazzed after the swim, I felt as if I had had 10 cups of coffee."

Kennedy added that one of the reasons to attend these Grand Prix meets is to get accustomed to the high level of competition. Considering Yoshimura swam with the former American record holder in the event, two Olympians and several NCAA All American swimmers, Kennedy and Hart remain confident she'll hold her own in the forthcoming trials.

“Valerie has a lot of poise and good technique,” Hart added. “She’s someone the other girls look up to.”

The poise and technique of swimming isn’t unfamiliar to the Yoshimura family. While her parents aren’t talented in aquatic athletics, Yoshimura’s older siblings are as equally passionate about swimming as their younger sister.

Yoshimura’s 22-year-old brother, Brandon, played water polo for Brown University. The Baldwin swimmer’s older sister Stephanie qualified in the 200-meter breaststroke trial when she was 14.

Stephanie Yoshimura, now 25, has shown the same support the entire family echoed, and frequently offers words of wisdom as her younger sister prepares for the trials this summer.

“She’s always the one to remind me to have fun with it, to make sure that I’m not swimming for anyone other than myself,” Yoshimura said. “Stephanie says to make everyone proud, you just have to do your best because it’s all you can do.”

The Suburban Seahawks train year round, which couldn't be more evident in not just Yoshimura's achievement, but also those of her peers.

Her teammate Sarah Hitchens, who will join Yoshimura in the UltraSwim, was 0.01 seconds away from the first trial cut in the 100-meter backstroke. Fellow teammate and Class AAA State Champion Christina Leander will join Yoshimura in Omaha, since she achieved trial cuts in the 100 and 200-meter backstroke earlier in the season.

Yoshimura, said her she will begin preparation for the Olympic Trials and UltraSwim by focusing on her technique and refining the basics.

"We pulled the training intensity back last week and did more more technical work," Kennedy said. "This week we are beginning to rev back up as the Charlotte Grand Prix is just four-and-a-half weeks away."

The 14-year-old swimmer said she and Kennedy sat down in the beginning of the school year, set goals and outlined a step-by-step process for attaining those goals while balancing Yoshimura’s daily activities as an involved student and dedicated friend.

“Obviously school comes first, but it was a matter of figuring out a schedule,” Yoshimura said. “There isn’t really pressure from my coaches or parents to get everything right immediately, so my life is balanced based on experience and seeing how everything works out.”

With the trial less than two months away, Yoshimura is focusing on the task at hand and her future swimming, regardless of whether or not she makes the final cut.

“I just think of all the years of hard work ahead of me,” Yoshimura said. “To reach anything like the Olympics would be amazing.”