Garcia practicing her top event, the breaststroke at GCCC pool.
Once Cheyenne Garcia had a phobia for water, now Santa Fe High senior in quest for second- time
Her best chance is again in the 100-yard breaststroke in the weekend state championships at the Albuquerque Academy Natatorium
By ARNIE LESHIN
Growing up, Cheyenne Garcia had a phobia for the water, but she had no problem running along cross country trails comprised of rocks, sticks, stones, frustrating up-hills, steep down-hills, and a quagmire of mud and water on a rainy day.
Doing this was no doubt a challenge, but for the now Santa Fe High senior, it was much less a dilemma stepping along a course that even included water, than swimming in it.
"It was at Eldorado Community School that I chose to run distances," she said, "and I stuck with it for about 5 years. It was the only sport I competed in."
But her mom and dad, not swimmers, still thought their oldest daughter could cope with the water, the pool water. No beaches within 1,000 miles of Santa Fe, just a pool to challenge.
"My mom and my dad wanted me to take up swimming and thought private lessons would be best," she said, "and so I went along with it and began to enjoy it."
Although she didn't exactly like the transition from running to swimming, Garcia satisfied her parents, Jacqueline and Jim, by taking to the water. Cross country was now history.
So, in her three years at Santa Fe High, instead of swimming for the Demonettes, she concentrated on club teams, first the Santa Fe Aquatic Club and then the Charger Aquatic Club in Pojoaque. It was a learning experience with absolutely no signs of phobia.
Enter the Demonettes her junior year.
"I knew that coach (Theresa) Hamilton had been coaching a long time" she said, "and has coached some of the best swimmers, as well as caring for the athletes. She's been a great mentor for me."
Garcia said she first loved the backstroke. Next came the breaststroke and freestyle. So she worked at improving in the backstroke, the breaststroke, and the 50 and 100 freestyle.
"I was really enjoying being on this team," she said, "my teammates, the coaches, the support I received from my mom and dad, my youngster sister, Sierra, and my boy friend who now attends Santa Fe Community College."
She burst into the sport as one who had grown up with it, which of course wasn't true, but what was true was how good she became.
Her first season and she qualifies in four, yes four, events for the state championships. No one in the Santa Fe area came close, for it's not a place that produces state champions in the pool.
But Garcia, also a key member of the Demonettes' relay teams that did not score, and did not place in the 200-yard individual medley, came through in splashing waters by finishing third in the 100 breaststroke, a race won in record-breaking time that wiped out state and pool records.
The winner, junior Lauren Burckel of Albuquerque Eldorado, was timed in 1:03.25. Next came sophomore Anita Sumali of Albuquerque La Cueva in 1:04.92. And then came Garcia in 1:07.53, with far less experience than the two who finished ahead of her.
Hello, podium. Then came confusion.
"They initially disqualified Sumali, so I was presented with the silver medal," Garcia said. "But after an appeal, they later changed the decision, but now they only had the bronze (medal) to give her. So I still have the silver."
Now she's back in the same event for this weekend's state championships at the Albuquerque Academy Natatorium. She's qualified for the individual medley, no relays this time for Santa Fe High, and so she knows her best chance to again step onto the podium is the breaststroke.
"I feel I have a pretty good chance," said Garcia. "My time at district (1:08.89) was better than last year, and I now have more experience."
The only obstacle is that both Burckel and Sumali are back in the event. Burckel has the best qualifying time of 1:04.12 and Sumali comes in with a 1:04.97. Also in the field is junior Emma Martinez of Albuquerque West Mesa (1:06.33) and sophomore Grace Gehlert of Eldorado (1:08.61).
"My mom is looking forward to it," she said, "but she also gets very nervous. My dad is calm, just watches and cheers for me."
Born in Santa Fe, Garcia and the family relocated to Albuquerque for nine months before moving back to Santa Fe. Now they reside in Eldorado.
She said she's hoping to swim in college, and that she's been in contact with several schools, but has yet to make a decision.
Meanwhile, Sierra is now in the 8th grade and swimming for the Demonettes, and if she sticks with it, will bring her much more pool experience than Cheyenne, who said Sierra is doing very well and enjoys it.
But the older sister has done what many swimmers do not usually do, and that's in her first season on the high school team, make in onto the podium. Now, with that experience behind her, she's eager to make a return there.
Phobia? What phobia?