HAWAII GROWN REPORT
Chelsea Nagata was unsure about pursuing swimming at UC Irvine, but the results have been good.
What started out as a chore so that she wouldn't drown in the ocean has turned into an immensely successful collegiate career for UC Irvine senior Chelsea Nagata.
School: UC Irvine
High school: Maui '04
Events: 100 butterfly, 50 freestyle, 100 backstroke
Honors: Two-time All-American in the 100 butterfly event; five individual state championships in high school; eight individual Big West championships; first two-time women's All-American swimmer in school history.
The '04 Maui High graduate is preparing to swim in her final Big West championships next week, where she has won eight individual titles.
Nagata is a two-time All-American, becoming the first women's swimmer in school history to achieve that.
She started swimming at age 5, and won five individual state high school titles. But even with all of those accomplishments, Nagata wasn't sure if she would continue swimming competitively.
"Before I came to college, I didn't think I wanted to swim," Nagata said. "I tried it out for a year and it was really hard. I wasn't used to training so hard for so long. I didn't want to come back the next year."
She stuck with it her freshman year, and planned on the conference championship meet to be her last. However, much to her surprise, Nagata put on a show the women's program at UC Irvine had never seen.
She won the 100-yard butterfly in 53.54 seconds, which was the 12th fastest time in the country that year. She also placed second in the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard backstroke.
She set school records in all three events. Suddenly, her plans to stop swimming changed.
"I hadn't really had that type of training before," Nagata said. "It was a very big surprise."
Since then, she qualified for the NCAA championships as a sophomore and a junior.
This year, she has posted B-cut times in all three of her main events. In order to qualify for the NCAA tournament, swimmers must post a qualifying time in any meet during the season that is known as the A cut.
If not enough swimmers make that qualifying time, those that posted B-cut times get a shot. Nagata hasn't automatically qualified in any events yet, but her training regimen is such that she hopes to peak at the Big West championships.
"My times are relatively better than last year, so hopefully that's a good sign," Nagata said.
When Nagata first jumped into a pool to swim, it was more work than sport. Nagata's sister was a swimmer, and even if she wasn't going to follow in her sibling's footsteps, her parents wanted her to at least be able to swim as a safety precaution.
She stuck with it, enjoying the thrills of racing against other people, but there have also been times where she thought about quitting. Every time she gets in that funk however, there always seems to be something that motivates her to stay with it.
"There have been times where I have been disappointed with how I swam or I didn't meet a goal," Nagata said. "I've met some great friends on different swim teams and that's always kept me going. It's also fun to race and to work hard and see your hard work pay off."
Nagata has been the only local girl representing Hawaii on the Anteaters women's swim team since she's been there, but she hasn't had to go it alone.
Randall Tom, who graduated from Maui the same year as Nagata, has been equally successful on the men's team. He's redshirting this season after qualifying for the Olympic Trials.
His success has been motivation for Nagata to try and keep up with him. They push each other to continue to work hard.
"He's really supportive of my swimming," Nagata said. "He's really great to have here, and I really value his friendship."
Nagata is majoring in psychology and social behavior and was recently accepted at UC Santa Barbara for graduate school, where she will embark on a PhD program for psychology.
She's unsure whether she's going to swim during the long-course season this summer, which she hasn't done before. If that's the case, then the Big West and hopefully the NCAA championships will be the final two meets of her career.
Like most seniors as their final year winds down, it's hard for Nagata to believe it's coming to an end.
She won't have to worry about any extra pressure because she's comfortable with the idea that her career is about to be over.
"I think I'm ready to move on with my life," Nagata said.