Back in her Juneau-Douglas days, Koko Urata was a part of the Crimson Bear swim team that won three consecutive state titles. Now, once again, she's winning in the pool as a sophomore at Stanford University.
Urata, a member of the Cardinal synchronized swimming team, recently competed with her Stanford teammates at the 2010 U.S. National Synchronized Swimming Championships in Huntersville, N.C. But she said she's had to make adjustments at the collegiate level.
"My first year was a little tough because I was kind of thrown in there," she said. "I was only used to swimming with one other person, and then I was expected to learn how to swim with eight people.
A lot of the other girls were used to it already, so I didn't swim very much my freshman year and in the beginning of this year," she added.
But during the course of this year, she said many of her teammates left to join the national team. Several girls, including Urata, were thrown into the mix, and the group was able to win the team and duet competitions at the national championship.
"We ended up pulling it together and winning, so it worked well. It was a great experience," she said. "It was kind of a whirlwind and a very stressful meet, but it felt good at the end of the day. It went by so fast."
As a nine-year-old, Urata began her career as a synchronized swimmer, but she said she remembers the idea of the sport did not thrill her.
"I was a swimmer, and then my mom made me go to an intro (to synchronized swimming) class, and I really didn't want to go," she said with a laugh. "Then I got in and kind of liked it. There was music and dance and everything invlolved, so I stuck with it."
In 2007, Urata made the Junior National Team for synchronized swimming and trained at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. She said it was a very intense program in which the athletes trained from 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. every day.
Urata balanced her swimming with her studies during high school, and it payed off as she was accepted to Stanford on scholarship.
But looking back on her days as a Crimson Bear, Urata said there are plenty of memories. She said she always enjoyed being at practice with her teammates, but one memory stuck out more than the others.
"My favorite was probably when we won state my senior year," Urata said. "It was very rewarding and, you know, it was fun to be there and to watch all the girls who worked really hard.
"And they're continuing (to work hard) in college in swimming," she continued. "I respect them a lot, and I have pictures in my head that come back every once in a while. I miss those girls."
But Urata's interests and passions go beyond the swimming pool. Now, she is studying human biology at Stanford with a focus on human performance.
"I'm on the pre-med track right now," she said. "It's basically sports medicine and anatomy and physiology. I literally declared last week."
Urata is happy with her decision to go into medicine, especially now that she is involved in sports at Stanford.
"I've worked a lot with trainers and been in the sports medicine area, and it's really cool because you meet a lot of cool athletes and a lot of really nice people, so that's what my draw is," she said. "But I also have interest in other areas of medicine, so I'm not quite sure."
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