Swimmers lap the competition

There is a feeling of belonging within Santa Monica College Swim Team Coach Steven Contarsy's office in the Gym building. Members of the swim team are joking around with each other and laughing intermittently. Among this diverse group of athletes are Asian swimmers Louisa Lau from Westwood, and international students Zixi Liu and Ching Tat "Jeff" Lum, both from China. International students account for about ten percent of SMC's total population. Of those, Asian students make up a large portion of the international students who flock to Santa Monica College for its outstanding reputation.

Both international and local Asian students have found a place on the swim team. Fresh from the state championships where they took home three first place medals, Lau, Liu and Lum all feel a sense of belonging on the swim team. The "big, family atmosphere," is what has kept Lau, a two year swim team veteran, involved in the sport. A large majority of her friends are from swimming.

"It's awesome, they are all like my best friends," Lau said. Lau, who is from Los Angeles, was born and raised in Westwood. She began swimming for a team when she was twelve years old.

"My mom, she made me swim," Lau said. "And I hated it at first, but then I started liking it."

It began with summer league which Lau was not thrilled about at the time. "The workouts were hard and I was really young," she said. "We had to go to meets every single weekend and I would hate them.

Things began to turn around for Lau when she began making friends at her new activity.

"All my friends were there and I liked seeing them everyday," Lau said.

She opted to continue swimming and joined the Palisades High School swim team, where she attended. What Lau loves most about swimming is reaching and surpassing her personal best goals. "It makes me want to work harder," Lau said.

"I love being able to hit personal records," Lau said. Lau considers her best personal record so far to have been the hundred-yard breaststroke with a time of one minute and twelve seconds.

This upcoming fall, Lau will be attending UCLA, where she will be studying Political Science. "I really like international relations and comparative government," Lau said. Lau has considered pursuing careers in public policy and journalism.

"I might do water polo next year or maybe a triathlon; just to try something new," Lau said. As for swimming, she will miss and be missed by her teammates, like Liu.

Liu is from a small town just outside of Beijing, China, and came to the U.S. while studying abroad. After two semesters in the states, Liu has noticed many differences in the way the swim teams are run.

"In China, the swimming coach would always yell at you," Liu said. "And sometimes they would hit you."

Liu says her current coach is much nicer than her former coach in China. "They are always funny, and they have a totally different style."

Here, as Liu described, she has the freedom to try new things that she did not have a chance to try as a swimmer on a team in China. In China, Liu was required to train twice a day. Here though, the team practices six days a week, two hours a day. Liu began her swimming career at the age of ten, "My dream was to be an Olympic star."

Swimming is definitely a hobby for Liu. It is also an activity that she hopes will boost her application to Loyola Marymount University where she hopes to attend. Liu placed in the women's hundred meter and the individual medley, this semester.

"It's hard hard hard hard. Always hard," said Liu, who is up for the challenge. Lum knows exactly how hard swimming can be. His father is the head coach of a swim club in his hometown of Hong Kong, China.

He first took to the water at three years old. "It's my destiny," Lum said with a chuckle.

"Before, I thought swimming was just helping me get into a university," Lum said. He dreamt of going to the University of Hong Kong. When he arrived in California, he decided he wanted to go to USC.

"Now I think that swimming is not just getting me into a university," Lum said. "I hope I can bring all my knowledge back to Hong Kong from America to teach them the new way to teach swimming."

Lum not only dreams of Olympic medals, but would like to continue his father's legacy as head coach in Hong Kong when his father retires. "He wants me to finish his dream," Lum said. Lum is aiming high and hopes to be at the 2012 Olympics, where he'd like to represent Hong Kong.

"I found I couldn't stop swimming," Lum recalls from the time he started as a child.

In fact, not even an injury could keep Lum from his passion. During a swim meet when he was seventeen, Lum injured his shoulder because he didn't warm up before swimming. Luckily, the injury healed with the help of a professional. Lum became fascinated with the physiology of sports medicine and became a kinesiology major.

His advises athletes everywhere to always warm up. Lum and fellow teammates Liu and Lau follow that tradition of warming up every time they swim.

"Each one has achieved phenomenal success in slightly different ways," Coach  Contarsy said.