By Gina E. Taitano
U Matuna Si Yu’os
Sixteen-year-old Pilar Shimizu is no stranger to setting records.
In addition to being the youngest athlete to represent Guam at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London this month, the incoming senior at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic High School will also be the first female in 20 years to representGuamin swimming at the Olympics.
TheGuamopen record for the 100 meter breaststroke was 1:16.78, a record held by Tammie Kaae since 1992. ButShimizurecently broke that record on May 30, 2012, replacing it with her best time of 1:16.19.
And it was that time that earned her a universality spot in the Olympics.
Shimizu took up swimming at the age of 4, and has been swimming competitively since she was 7. Since then, she has not only set records for herself, but also advancedGuam’s ranking among international competitors.
“Pilar had two breakthroughs in her swimming career,” notes her mother, Jeni Shimizu. “Each time, it’s like a door opened.”
Two years ago at the 2010 Oceania Swimming Championships inApia, Samoa, Shimizu set two new best records for herself, and medaled in the 100m breaststroke competition.Shimizu’s medal also brought accolades for Guam, as it constituted the first time Guam medaled at anOceaniachampionship.
With a best time of 1:18.82 in the 100m breaststroke, it would take Shimizu some time to set a new personal best.
“It took two years for the next door to open,” her mother said. “At a certain level, cutting time becomes challenging. You have to add on more training, you have to change training, you have to do a lot of things to chip away and become better.
“So these last two years I can imagine have been very hard for her. She’s had to take control of her training career and be fully involved in the changes being made, and be committed to it. That’s where she’s at right now.”
“Before that I wasn’t doing too well,” Pilar Shimizu admits. “I was in a transitional phase. And it wasn’t until Christmas break that I realized that I needed to be more focused and more efficient. My goal is to get under one minute and 14 seconds.”
Her older brother Carlos, who also swam competitively in high school, helped her to come to that realization, she said. “He’s the one who made me realize how big of a deal the Olympics were. He put that dream in front of me.”
Her dad helped her by being the one who was “always super chill,” she said. He was the comforting factor when the road to the Olympics would become very stressful.
But it’s her mom, she said, who pushed her to stay on track.
“When I absolutely want to quit, she helps me by not giving up.”
“Pilar could be at a very low point,” Jeni Shimizu said, “but if you ask her if she wants to quit, she would always say, ‘No.’ The worst part was ‘I don’t know.’”
And it was in those moments of uncertainty that her mother pushed on.
“I asked her permission, ‘Since you don’t know, may I have your permission to keep you on it?’”
Pilar’s response is evident in the Olympic slot she holds today.
“I just never gave up with her,” Jeni Shimizu said. “Other people did because she just made it very difficult for them. But I just never gave up on her. Through it all she never said she wanted to quit. And that’s the reason we kept encouraging her.
“There are a lot of ways that your child reaches out to you. I feel that as a parent, the time when a child needs your help is when they’re least willing to ask for it,”Shimizusaid. “It’s being there and being ready.”
With a rigorous training schedule, Pilar has had little time for much else.
She swims for at least two hours every day and does strength training in the gym twice a week. And though she’s not on a special diet, she says, she’s cognizant of what she eats.
For this young teenager, getting to the Olympics has required sacrifices.
If, for instance, by teenager you mean someone who hangs out with friends and goes to the movies, she said, “I don’t really feel like a teenager.”
But that doesn’t mean she’s been spared the typical teenage challenges. In addition to the pressure of training for the Olympics, she also faces other challenges, she said, like “enduring all the mental and physical blocks that this sport has given me, as well as growing up and maturing – all those problems that a teenager faces.”
“These are the years that kids spend a lot of time together,” her mother notes. “Your middle school and high school years, going to movies and parties – she has had very, very little of that. And she craves that just as much as the next kid. And then there’s family time, going to life events like christenings and graduations. On her training schedule, there are always these hard choices to make,” she said.
Add to that the workload of a high school honors student who wants to study pre-med in college, and the question of commitment becomes one that separates champions from all the rest.
“I just did what I could with the energy that I had, and I tried my best,” Pilar said.
Having just turned 16, Pilar’s best is taking her toLondonto compete against the world’s top swimmers.
“As a mother you see your child grow, you see where they shine, how their talents bud and start to develop, and this is an area of several areas that she seemed to have a knack for,” Jeni Shimizu recounts. “But it really only took her until recently to accept that and use it.
“You do so much as a parent,” Jeni Shimizu said. “You lecture them and you try to teach them. And you just don’t know if they’re listening to you.”
But, evidently, Pilar was listening.
“She put on Facebook, something about your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift to God,” her mother said. “There’s this ongoing discussion in our family about ministering to your gifts in every form. The test of fully realizing your talent is when other people around you in some way are blessed by it.”
In her daughter Pilar’s case,Shimizusaid, she was at a point where the qualification to go to the Olympics was a very narrow door to go through. “She was the top ranked female and the first to be offered the chance to step through the door by attending the FINA Swimming World Championships inShanghailast summer. If she stepped through the door, she was making a commitment to go to London.”
But it was a commitment she was making not only to herself and to her sport, but also toGuam.
“And that’s her gift back to her island, by getting out there and doing her best.”