Exclusive Interview with Olympic swimmer Kimiko Raheem
by Nethmi Jayatilleke
Tell us a little about your life, background and your tryst with swimming?
I began swimming when I was 3 years old, and competitively when I was 6 years old. I grew up in a family of swimmers, with both my elder sisters being competitive swimmers, and my parents being former athletes. As a result, I was brought up in a swimming environment. Swimming was simply a part of my life. It’s been there for as long as I remember, and I cannot remember a time where swimming was not a part of my life. There’s always been something about the water that entrances me. If ever I am upset, just getting into the water makes me feel so much better. It feels peaceful, like the water understands every part emotion that you feel, and moves with you. Feeling the water under your finger tips and running across your face is an ineffable feeling, and one that I cherish. Despite my love for the water, I admit that it was only quite later on that I truly understood my love and passion for this amazing sport that I am blessed enough to be in. Once I understood it, that was when I really started seeing positive results in my swimming.
When did u start taking swimming seriously and who played an important role in helping you realize your potential?
I believe I only understood my true passion for swimming slightly later on in my swimming career, when I was around 16 years old. I think the one person who was the most important figure in my swimming career was my former assistant coach David Ballesteros, with whom I trained with in the year prior to the Olympics. He has seen me at my best, and at my absolute worst, and has supported me through it all. He was the one person who saw the best in me, even when I didn’t see it myself, and never stopped believing in me. Having been able to train with him for one year changed me completely as a swimmer, and an individual, and helped me realize the potential I have in this sport if I put the work in. He has been an essential part of my swimming career, and has completely revolutionized my approach and thinking toward swimming in the most positive way possible. I think that having such an influential person in your life is such a blessing – he is a blessing to me, and I am forever appreciative and grateful to have him in my life
Is swimming your only focus, are you very good at balancing swimming with your academics?
In my family, education is the priority. However, my family is supportive. Understanding the massive role swimming played in my life, they have supported me through it and tried to help me balance the two at a high level. It saddens me to see that many seem to believe that it is impossible to balance both swimming and academics. We see so many young swimmers with enormous potential giving up swimming at young ages to focus on their education. From my experience, the essence of balancing the two is time-management. Unfortunately, yes, we must sacrifice certain aspects of our lives such as parties and dinners every night, but what is achievement without sacrifice? I take care to prioritize myself and balance the two as much as possible, eliminating external factors such as social media and parties. I’ve had people who have doubted my ability to handle the two, especially during my O levels, but with the support of my parents and teachers, I am humbled to say that I came out with all A*s in my IGCSE exams, which I think is significant in showing that it is not impossible to balance your swimming and academics.
Read more in the latest issue of Chokolaate magazine, issue 43 in stores now.