Water Works

Former Crimson Bear swimmer gives her time to help in the pool

Posted: Monday, May 10, 2010

Almost a full decade ago, she was in their shoes - or swim caps.

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Matthew Tynan / Juneau Empire
Matthew Tynan / Juneau Empire

But on Sunday, Koko Urata was back in Juneau and back in Augustus Brown Swimming Pool to help with the young Juneau Aurora Knights, the same club with which she used to swim.

"It's pretty cool because I've known her for a long time," said Dana Bogatko, a member of the Juneau Aurora Knights. "And it's cool that she's from Juneau, she actually got in to Stanford and now she's on a national team."

As a member of the Stanford Cardinal swim team, Urata and her teammates recently won the team and duet competitions at the 2010 U.S. National Synchronized Swimming Championships. They were the runner-up as a team at the meet in Huntersville, N.C., on April 17.

While she deserves the spotlight for the accomplishments she's made, Urata humbly deflects the attention away.Instead, she made certain that the girls of the JAK were in the limelight on Sunday.

"I remember when I was seven and I came to one of the shows and saw Koko and Sarah (Lawfer) performing, and it made me think that they were mermaids," Bogatko said. "I wanted to be like them because they were so graceful."

And as JAK coach Karen Lawfer said, the girls are learning. In fact, they recently returned from a meet with Homer and Valdez. Those three programs are the only synchronized swimming clubs in the state of Alaska.

"The girls did an excellent job," she said. "We won in the figures, but the routines were hard to judge because there are different parts to it and everybody was in a different class."

Lawfer's daughter Sarah swam with Urata as an Aurora Knight, and she said she sees some of the same qualities in the girls now that she did when her daughter and Urata swam together.

"I see these other girls and I say, 'Oh, those are some of Sarah's techniques, or some of Koko's things,'" Lawfer said. "They're all my little Sarahs and Kokos out there."

Lawfer said she wanted to continue to give girls in Juneau the opportunity to have the same coaching and experiences both Sarah and Urata had as children.

"We have that motivation as volunteer coaches and parents," she said. "We did it for Sarah and Koko, we'll do it for these guys, too."

Chris Urata, Koko's mother and coach for the Aurora Knights, said being at the pool to coach the girls is something her daughter wanted to do during her brief trip home.

"She comes back with so much experience and a worldly view of synchronized swimming," she said. "So she brings back that expertise and shares with the girls, and it's been a great opportunity.

"She enjoys working with them, and it's great that the girls came out and responded to that," she continued. "This was one of the highlights of the weekend, for her to come work with the girls."

Returning to her old swimming hole, Koko said she had a great time working with the girls of the Aurora Knights.

"It's really fun because at one time I was in their place, and it's so weird to be on the other side. It feels like just yesterday I was here swimming," she said. "But coming back here, I can see how I've grown. I see different things or I teach differently than I did in high school."

While Koko has enjoyed her own growth in the sport, seeing these kids so dedicated to the sport she loves is the greatest thrill.

"It's cool to see how I've changed, but to see the girls and their passion gives me more fire to continue."

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