It's been a long road for Juneau's decorated synchronized swimmers.
For half of their young lives, Kimiko "Koko" Urata and Sarah Felix have been inseparable in the pool, mirroring each other to an exactness that vaulted them into the elite of the national synchronized swimming scene.
But like all roads in Juneau, the contemporary duo will come to an end this spring when Felix and Urata graduate from Juneau-Douglas High School and enter the collegiate ranks. Their Juneau swan song will be April 17 at 7 p.m. at the August Brown Swimming Pool at the annual Water Show hosted by the Juneau Aurora Knights.
"It didn't really hit me until last week when we had a meeting and I thought, 'Oh, it's the last time,'" Urata said. "I'll be sad and a little bit emotional, but it will be fun to show off for the last time."
"It's going to be sad to close the door," Felix said. "But we both have stuff to look forward to in the future."
After the Water Show performance, Felix and Urata, both 18, will prepare for the U.S. Nationals on May 1-4 in Tucson, Ariz., which will be their last team competition together. The talent level at the U.S. Nationals will be something new to the girls as they will swim against this year's collegiate champions, the National A and B teams and possibly the U.S. Olympic team.
In 2007, the duet placed fifth at the U.S. Junior Nationals and Urata was named to the U.S. Junior National Synchronized Swimming Team, helping her squad place third at the U.S. Open National Championships. In 2006, the pair claimed the Esynchro U.S. Age Group Championships for 16-to 17-year-olds by a wide margin over second place.
Felix's and Urata's national success will undoubtedly leave behind a legacy for the remaining Aurora Knights. Over the past few years, the Knights have grown to 16 members in four different skill levels.
"There's a lot of girls coming up and starting to show the same drive that Sarah and I did," Urata said. "If I left earlier, I'd feel a little worried, but now they are in a good spot and will hopefully develop some other nationally ranked swimmers."
"Sarah and Koko have been incredible role models," their volunteer coach Jami Eistetter said. "They've inspired the younger ones to swim as well as they (Felix and Urata) can swim."
Next fall, Felix and Urata will take separate paths to college. Felix will attend the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio to study fashion merchandising. Urata is heading to Stanford University and will enter a pre-med program.
Both will be members of their respective school's synchronized swimming teams and both Stanford and Incarnate Word are national powerhouses in the sport. Stanford was the 2007 National Champion while Incarnate Word finished third. Thus, Felix and Urata will become rivals for the first time - or maybe not.
"We've always been a little competitive with each other," Urata said. "It was always about who swam the fastest; who swam the farthest; and who could get the highest out of the water. But now we're more mature and work more on development."
Felix said their friendly competitiveness was a big part of what made them so successful.
"We always jokingly competed against each other but most importantly, we're best friends," she said.
Jeff Kasper is a freelance writer and former Empire sportswriter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.