UC San Diego sophomore Anju Shimura is proof that big things sometimes come in small packages. Despite standing just 5-foot-2, the Irvine native is one of the stalwarts on the powerful Triton Women's Swimming & Diving team. Last spring, Shimura scored points in five events while helping the UCSD women to a fourth place finish at the NCAA Division II Championships in Columbia, MO. This week, she and 13 teammates will be trying to better that performance at the 2009 NCAA Championships in Houston, TX. Coach Scott McGihon knows Shimura will be a key component if his squad is to maximize its opportunities at the national meet. "Anju is a very confident competitor who really doesn't believe anybody can beat her," says McGihon. "She's actually more versatile than we thought she would be when she arrived at UCSD. I expect that she will final in every individual event and be a difference maker in every relay she swims." Shimura, an environmental systems major at UCSD’s Sixth College, took time on the eve of the 2009 national championships to talk about the upcoming meet, her team and the unique world of collegiate swimming.
Q: When you’re swimming at an event as big as the NCAA Championships, is it difficult to stick to your “game plan” and not get swept up in the emotion of the moment?
SHIMURA: My nerves are definitely all over the place before and during a big meet such as nationals. But they’re the “good nerves” that get me pumped and excited for the meet. Although there are instances where I get a little overwhelmed with the importance of the meet, that’s when your teammates and coaches step in and help you relax and prepare and stay focused.
Q: What individual events will you be swimming in Houston? Which is your favorite and which do you feel will present the best opportunity for success?
SHIMURA: I will be swimming the 200 freestyle, 100 backstroke, 200 backstroke and a few relays. My favorite race is the 100 backstroke. Although sprinting is not my forte, I love the short, fast events that get you up and going right away. I think every event is an opportunity for success. When I’m at a meet, the events that I do well in are really up in the air. Every race has a different outcome, so I like to look at each race as an opportunity to do my best.
Q: The UCSD Women’s team clearly appears to be one of the top five heading into the meet? What would you consider success team-wise at the NCAA Championships?
SHIMURA: Of course winning the meet would be a great experience, but I would not necessarily say we would have to win to have a successful meet. We not only want everyone on the team to swim their best times, but we also want to out-cheer the other teams. We just want to swim fast, be loud and, all in all, have fun!
Q: From a team perspective, what makes the NCAA Championships different from any other meet?
SHIMURA: First off, unlike conference, we get to travel to another state. One of my favorite parts of nationals is arriving at the airport in our team sweats and having everyone stare at us wondering who we are and what we do.
Another awesome thing about this year is that we get new LZR’s (the suit all the Olympians wore) for nationals, so I’m really excited to wear that and swim really fast. But in the end, all big meets are the same. Although nationals is a higher level than conference, a meet is a meet. An opportunity to swim is an opportunity to swim fast.
Q: Like most big swim meets, the NCAA Championships have morning prelims and evening finals each day. Are there tactics in place for each swimmer in the prelims or do you approach prelims and finals the same?
SHIMURA: Nationals is a bit different from conference in that making it back to finals is a lot tougher. At conference, I have a little bit more breathing room and can plan out my race tactics a bit more; saving up in the morning sessions for finals. But at nationals, I have to swim my best in order to make it back to finals. This meet is really fast, so race tactics go out the window. We have to swim fast in the morning, and even faster at night.
Q: On the third day at last year’s NCAA Championships in Columbia, MO, you essentially collapsed at the end of your leg of the 800 freestyle relay and missed the final day of the meet. What happened and what do you remember from that night?
SHIMURA: Oh boy, that was quite the night. Let’s just say I like to push myself to my limits...and I did just that. That race was probably the most painful race in my life. I took it out way too fast and pretty much just died at the end. I was severely exhausted and probably dehydrated too. After my leg of the race, I nearly collapsed and couldn’t move. Apparently I couldn’t get my heart rate down so I ended up being taken away to the hospital, on a stretcher, still in my racing suit. Being at the hospital was quite the experience. Let’s just say the people in the room next to me (which was only separated by a curtain) had some interesting conversations. I definitely learned from that incident to listen to my body and give it rest when I need to. Hopefully, this year I can finish the whole meet without any trips to the hospital.
Q: Coming into this year’s meet, how well-prepared do you feel compared to last year at the same time?
SHIMURA: This year I am really up in the air. Unfortunately, I got the flu two weeks ago and had to miss the conference meet. Being sick was a big set back as far as my training and conditioning. But, at the same time, getting sick may have been just the thing my body needed. Although it forced me to sit on my butt and watch TV and do nothing for a week, it also forced me to rest. People get sick when their bodies are broken down and tired, and before conference I was just that.
Now, I have fully recovered and feel great in the water. I actually feel better now than I did before I got sick. So for the last two weeks I have been getting back into shape and preparing myself for nationals. I am just so excited to compete at the meet that the fact that two weeks ago I couldn’t even stand is completely out of my mind. I’m taking it day-by-day and I truly believe that I can still do well as long as I believe in myself.
Q: UCSD obviously has a number of swimmers on the women’s side who could do very well at the NCAA’s. Is there anyone you think is particularly ready for a huge performance? Anyone who might surprise people?
SHIMURA: The women’s team this year is truly phenomenal. Every girl on the team has improved significantly from the beginning of the season, so why stop now? I am especially looking forward to see the freshmen girls swim, as this is their first time being at nationals. The freshmen bring tons of energy and speed to our team, and I think they are going to be awesome in Houston. And, of course, all of the returners are going to follow through as usual. I can’t think of one individual swimmer that is going to blow me away, because I seriously think the whole team is going to swim ridiculously FAST!
Q: How much strategy is involved in a typical swimming race, how much are you able to tell what your opponents are doing and how does that affect what you do?
SHIMURA: There are definitely plenty of tactics that may take place during a swimming race. Scott (McGihon) always tells us to “swim smart,” and the way you swim a race really effects the overall outcome. During my races, I definitely use tactics such as drafting and focusing on the little things such as good turns and finishes. I also have to regulate the speed I take out in a race to make sure I have enough energy to finish the race strong. But in the end, I really just have to trust my body and go for it. The worst feeling is touching the wall and knowing you could have swam faster.
Q: What characteristics do you consider essential for any to swimmer to have?
SHIMURA: Swimmers have to be mentally and physically strong. We are not only in great shape, but we have to be able to handle great amounts of stress and pressure. Also I cannot let the result of one race affect my meet. We don’t always go best times at every meet, so after a bad race we immediately have to drop it and move onto our next race. Swim meets such as nationals are very long and draining, so I have to take it day-by-day and events-by-event or it can get very overwhelming.
Q: Outsiders often marvel at the time swimmers spend in the water. Is training as monotonous as some think? Do you have any methods of dealing with the repetitive part of your sport?
SHIMURA: Swimming is definitely a VERY time consuming sport. We probably spend a total of four-to-five hours a day in the water, along with an hour of weights, and we have practice six days a week. The 6:00 AM workouts aren’t too fun either, especially when it’s around 40-degrees outside.
But as much as we work out, I absolutely love swimming. The feeling you get at the end of a race at a big meet is priceless and you know that all your hard work paid off. Also your teammates become like family. My training buddies definitely make practice a lot more fun as we joke around and encourage each other during the tough workouts. My teammates are what keep me motivated to attend all the workouts and try my best. We work hard together as a team, we race as a team and we win as a team.
Q: How did you get started swimming? What led you to UC San Diego?
SHIMURA: My brother was a swimmer, so I, of course, followed in his footsteps and took up swimming as well. I started swimming when I was four-years-old, and have competitively swum since I was seven.
How I came to UCSD is actually a really weird story. During high school I was pretty set on going to the East Coast for college, specifically Harvard. I went on a recruiting trip there and fell in love with the school but wasn’t so impressed by the swim team. During my application process I suddenly thought, “What if I don’t want to go to the East Coast?” and so I started looking at schools in California.
Prior to that moment, going to UCSD never went through my head, so applying to this school was pretty random for me. But I applied, went on a recruiting trip and I fell in love! I am so happy I came here and I love everything about UCSD. I couldn’t be happier with my decision.
Q: Is there any athlete that you’ve admired or patterned yourself after?
SHIMURA: A recent admiration that I have developed is for the UCSD coaching staff. I feel so privileged to have coaches as great as mine. Scott McGihon, Corrie Falcon and Matt Macedo (and occasionally Tyler Painter) perfectly compliment each other and create an unstoppable power team. There is so much knowledge and experience behind these coaches and being able to swim under them everyday is astounding.
Q: Compared to other programs you’ve been involved with, what are the strengths of the UC San Diego coaching staff?
SHIMURA: Coming from a very strict, kind of crazy club team, the UCSD team is like heaven. I can really tell that our coaches really care for our swimmers and would bend over backwards to fulfill our needs.
Scott is the head honcho that really oversees everyone’s performance and well-being. I seriously believe he knows everything (seriously, everything ha ha). Corrie is my backbone. As swimmers experience a lot of stress, balancing school and workouts, it sometimes becomes overwhelming trying to handle everything. Corrie helps me regulate my stress levels and gives me that extra boost of self confidence when I most need it. As for Matt, words cannot describe his devotion and knowledge of swimming. He has taught me new techniques and things about swimming that I could only learn from top notch swim coaches. Matt has coached/swam with some of the fastest swimmers in the world and he is our coach! He knows swimming like the back of his hand, and we are so lucky to have him as a part of our program.
Q: What are some of your interests away from the pool?
SHIMURA: In those relatively few moments of time where I am not swimming, doing homework or anything school-related I really like to play the piano. Unfortunately I don’t have a piano down here in San Diego, so I can only play when I’m back home in Irvine. (but I asked for a keyboard for my birthday, so hopefully I can get one soon!) I also like to sing. Surprisingly I took chorus for two years in high school. But now my singing talents are restricted to inside my car and in the shower.
Q: What do you plan to do when the NCAA meet is over that you haven’t been able to do all season?
SHIMURA: Eat junk food and sleep! Due to our crazy training schedule, sleep is limited during the season. And thanks to my 8:00 AM class this quarter, I didn’t get to sleep in on the one day we have morning workout off. But, next quarter I made sure I signed up for later classes so I can sleep to my heart’s desire. I’m also excited to get a job (I know most people would beg to differ). But job = money, and money means shopping! I love to shop for clothes and accessories, and have fun outfits to wear to school. Spring quarter is bittersweet because we don’t have to swim as much, but at the same time I don’t get to see my teammates every day.
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