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Kapolei High Swimmer Gears Up For State Championship

Leilani Herrera’s transformation from shy student to swimmer extraordinaire begins long before she gets to the pool, and with a little aid from her iPod. The Kapolei sophomore often is found listening to music before a race in an effort to get her mind ready for swimming.

“I’ll usually listen to music and tune myself out from everything else,” said Herrera, who will compete in both the 100 breaststroke and the 100-yard backstroke at this week’s state swimming and diving championships. “When I swim, I see a side of myself that I never see before. With swimming, my competitive side comes out.”

Pre-game rituals alone don’t explain Herrera’s flair for swimming, of course. Her work ethic may be her best attribute, as well as her natural athleticism, according to coach Dex Lee.

“She’s athletically gifted,” he said. “She probably has a vertical leap of 30 inches, and she’s very flexible. Her weight-to-strength rating is awesome.”

Herrera finished fourth in the state in the 100-yard backstroke last year although only a freshman.

More recently, she took first at the OIA individual finals in breaststroke, while finishing second overall in backstroke. Herrera claimed OIA West individual titles in both events.

With two full seasons of eligibility following this weekend’s state meet, expectations are understandably high for her. Whether practicing with Kapolei High or Hawaii Swim Club, she typically trains two hours a day, six days a week.

“It’s not a challenge,” she said of her training. “I love to train. I think of it as a fun thing to do, not as a hard thing to do.”

Herrera credits her parents, Willie and Lu, as fueling her interest with their support. “I was 10 years old when I started. It came easy to me. My dad used to train me for three hours a day, and I really liked it. I really love swimming. I used to swim for fun – at the beach or in our own pool. When we moved (from town) to Kapolei was when I started to swim competitively. By the sixth grade, I felt confident.

“What I enjoy are the people that you meet, and doing what I care about doing the most,” added Herrera, who also competes for the Kapolei water polo team in the spring. “I like the feel of competitive swimming.”

With two years of high school remaining, earning a Division I college scholarship would seem a realistic goal for Herrera, who also is an A-student. When time allows, her artistic side also shows itself in drawings that she has produced. “I like abstract art,” she said. “I like using my imagination to create. I do a lot of artwork in my free time.”

Next semester, Herrera will begin taking art classes at Kapolei. For the present, she has an all-consuming mindset for this week’s state meet. “As we get closer, we’ll actually increase our training until near the end, when we scale down. I’m really excited to swim at states.”