Running never really held much of an attraction for Waiakea senior Akemi King, who took to the water, competing in swimming and playing water polo, instead of following in the family footsteps.
She is the daughter of Chuck King, the longtime Honokaa cross-country and track and field coach. He still teaches physical education at the high school. Her brother, Christopher, a 2009 Waiakea graduate who’s in the Air Force, ran cross-country and track.
In the pool, she’s much better. But it’s in the classroom where King really shines. And her hard work paid off with a scholarship to Western State Colorado University, a Division II school that restarted its swimming program this season.
King, who plans to major in physical therapy, estimated it’s a 75 percent academic and 25 percent athletic package that covers more than half of the $15,000 annual tuition. She’s holding a 3.9 grade-point average, taking two advanced placement classes.
“I’m really surprised. I didn’t expect to get as much money for academics,” she said. “My SATs were not as high as I wanted them. I guess my GPA pulled through. I got an academic scholarship.”
But in order to become a collegiate swimmer, she had to go outside the family tradition.
“I run outside of school, but it never interested me,” she said. “I’ve always been a water person. Sometimes, I do go running with my dad. I haven’t in a while. Track conflicts with water polo, and cross-country is the same time as my swim club. I can’t do either one.
“In the fourth grade, my brother and I were both in gymnastics. I decided not to go into gymnastics and went into swimming. When he got into high school, my dad said he should run. That’s how it ended up.
“I like swimming because it’s an individual sport. What I do affects how I perform. I enjoy the sport and I like training, working hard and seeing the results that happen.”
King did the three-mile Thanksgiving run during Wayne “Big Dog” Joseph’s event. It was a good father-and-daughter memory. But she was also reminded why swimming is a better sport of choice.
“He runs at my pace for the first two miles, and he took off the last mile,” she said.
Her dad finished in 26 minutes and 19 seconds. She clocked in much later.
It’s no surprise her grades are lofty because her mom, Pamela King, is also a teacher.
“My mom’s a history teacher at Waiakea, and I’ve had her for three years,” King said. “I enjoy it, and I think she’s a good teacher, and I’m not biased because she’s my mom. I call her ‘Mom’ because the whole class knows she’s my mom.”
King put a profile on berecruited.com, and that attracted the interest of the Mountaineers. She hasn’t visited the campus, but she talked to team members and heard good things about the school, which has an enrollment of 2,400 students, a small-school size that suits her.
She’s well-rounded in her hobbies, playing the piano for the last 10 years and dancing hula for 12 years. She does a piano recital once a year, and she dances for Jo Yokoyama’s Eleu’s halau, which performs at elder care homes.
King, who will compete in the 100-yard butterfly and 500 freestyle, credits Waiakea swimming coach Bill Sakovich for sharpening her stroke work and assistant Justin Pierce — her Kamehameha Warriors Aquatics club coach — for developing her race strategy.
“It’s a super opportunity,” Sakovich said. “I encourage all our kids to not only to try to get a scholarship, but go try out for a college team. It’s a completely different environment. When she gets there, she’ll have a family of her own.”
King appreciated not only Sakovich and Pierce, but also her parents and Waiakea water polo coaches, Haley and Kaci Rosehill for playing key roles in her development.
“All of the swimming and land training I’ve done during water polo season has benefited me in my swim career by making me physically stronger,” she said. “I’m glad to have both of my parents for support. My dad tells me to swim to win.”
That’s the tricky thing about winning. Usually, there’s only one first-place winner. King, whose only BIIF title came as a sophomore in the 100 butterfly, understands that, knowing that first-place effort is always rewarding.
“My biggest accomplishment was the long course state championships on Oahu in July. I had five third-place finishes and two fifth-place finishes,” she said. “It’s the highest I ever placed at states.
“I hoped my resume and swimming would be good enough to get me a scholarship. There are people better than I am. That’s how it is in any sport. But even coach Justin tells me, ‘The effort you put in will only make you better. Don’t worry about others. It will only affect you.’
“If I had to give any advice, it would be to keep working hard, attend as many practices as you can go to. Train hard and don’t go easy because in the end you’ll benefit from it.”