HAWAII GROWN REPORT
COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA
Mark Eckert will culminate his swimming career at California with the Pac-10 and NCAA championships.
Eckert ready to dive into life after college
The Iolani graduate would like to finish his senior year at Cal on a strong note
Talent has never been the issue for California senior swimmer Mark Eckert.
» High School: Iolani '04
» Height/Weight: 6-2/180
» Born: July 24, 1986
» Events: backstroke, individual medley
» Honors: Holds Iolani school records in 100-meter backstroke, 200-meter freestyle and 500-meter freestyle events; posted third-fastest time in California history in 400 IM; two-time Hawaii swimmer of the year in high school; two-time NCAA honorable-mention All-American.
As a senior at Iolani, Eckert broke the 100-meter backstroke record in the state swimming and diving championships in 2004 and also won the 200-meter individual medley event.
That success translated to the college level, where Eckert has twice been named an honorable-mention All-American.
Yet, in a sport where 99 percent of what you accomplish happens in the weeks and months leading up to a meet, it hasn't always been easy for the legal studies major to stay focused.
"It has been really tough for me the past two years to keep my attitude and mind into it," Eckert said.
He has been swimming since he was 8 years old and endured early-morning practices since he was 11.
Unlike most sports, swimming is a year-long battle within yourself to work ever-so-hard to shave those precious tenths of a second off your times.
Twelve months of tedious laps back and forth, over and over, culminate for Eckert in two meets where he generally swims four events.
One is the Pac-10 championship meet and the other is the NCAA championships.
"It's more of a rah-rah thing to win dual meets, but winning those doesn't matter when you get to the Pac-10 and NCAAs," he said.
Eckert has had plenty of success in both in his career. He has qualified for the NCAA championships in each of the past three years. Barring injury or any unforeseeable event, he will do it again this year.
He finished second in the 200 back, third in the 400 IM and fourth in the 200 IM at last year's Pac-10 championships. He was 11th in the 400 IM and 12th in the 200 back at the NCAA meet, which earned him honorable-mention All-America honors.
However, swimming is such a grinding sport, and takes such a level of commitment, that the tediousness can wear on even the best.
At one point in the summer between his sophomore and junior years, Eckert felt like he had put all he could into the sport and was ready to move on.
"It was a combination of just not liking where I was at training-wise and having some clashes with one of my coaches on the team," Eckert said. "(Swimming) was more like a job for me than something I wanted to actually do. I didn't like that."
He quit the team for three months, expecting to enjoy his newfound freedom. But for somebody who had spent so much of his life in the pool, he couldn't figure out what to do without it.
"It was really weird for me because I had all this time on my hands," he said. "I felt like I had something to finish, and I wanted to finish it right."
After sitting down with his coaches, Eckert returned for his junior year with a new attitude. He re-dedicated himself to swimming and it showed with his improved times in all of his events.
Swimming still poses the same challenges of staying focused day in and day out as he swims lap after lap.
But Eckert knows the end of his career is in sight, and after 14 years of competition, a few more months seem like nothing.
"I keep thinking to myself I only have a certain amount of days left," he said. "This year is a lot easier because I'm a senior and this is my last year and last shot to be the best I can be."
Tomorrow will be Eckert's final meet on the Berkeley campus and he will be honored as part of the senior day festivities. His parents are flying up from Hawaii to attend.
Nearly two-thirds of his life has been devoted to swimming and there were many times he doubted he'd ever make it through his senior year.
It's easy for him to look back and think about the things swimming has forced him to miss, from the parties to social events to just being able to sleep in during the week.
Yet, through all the distractions, Eckert has persevered. His senior year has given him an opportunity to look back at everything he has been through, and he's more than happy he stuck it out to get to this point.
"It's such a small part in the grand scheme of things in life," Eckert said. "Hopefully I can surprise myself and some people with how I swim."
As of now, he plans on training for the Olympic trials this summer in Omaha, Neb., but those plans could change depending on how the next two months go.
"If I have a real good NCAA meet then I might just retire on top," Eckert said. "I'm excited to do well this year, but I'm excited to be done with this chapter of my life.
"I'm pretty excited for life after swimming."