After stepping away from the pool, Swimming Center Tsunami Saipan’s Aika Watanabe returned via the Inaugural Micronesian Swimming Championships and stood out in the competition held in Palau early this month.
The 15-year-old, who was sidelined by health concerns last season, won nine gold medals (including relays) and three silvers in the April 4 to 7 event to earn the most outstanding swimmer award in the star division (13 and over age group). Watanabe topped the 50m butterfly (32.22 seconds) of the short course meet and also prevailed in the 100m backstroke (1:12.85), 200m backstroke (2:46.85), 100m individual medley (1:15.05), 50m backstroke (34.25 seconds), 50m butterfly (32.22 seconds), and 100m backstroke (1:12.85). She was part of the CNMI Team’s relay team that notched gold medals in the mixed 200m freestyle and 200m medley and defeated fellow Commonwealth swimmers, a World Championships participant from Palau, and Pohnpei and Marshall Islands bets.
“Palau was a really tough meet, but I really enjoyed it. We had interactions with other swimming teams in Micronesia, exchanging caps and shirts. I was really happy and surprised (at winning the most outstanding award) at the same time,” Watanabe said.
All these achievements were really unexpected as they came less than a year after the Grace Christian Academy student stepped out of the pool due to some health issues. Watanabe’s coach, Hiro Kimura, was beaming with pride on how the club’s accomplished leader recovered successfully and decided to continue her journey that started when she was just 9 years old.
“Aika improved steadily since joining us when she was 9. She won regularly in Saipan and Guam events, participated in the Tokyo Junior Sprint, and joined training swim camps in Japan. She marked a CNMI age group national record at the Guam Championships 2018 and last year was selected as a CNMI representative to the FINA World Championships in China,” Kimura said.
Unfortunately, Watanabe had to miss the World Championships trip due to health concerns and according to Kimura, the former also stopped swimming for awhile. However, Watanabe rejoined her teammates late last year and quickly regained her old top form.
“We set our first target for Micronesian Swimming Championships and Aika hit that goal and has proven that she is one of the top swimmers in Micronesia. After the tournament, I wish for her to go to the World Championships in Korea this summer, Kimura said.
Though he is proud that Watanabe had a triumphant return in Palau and has a strong chance of making it to the World Championships this year, Kimura is more impressed with how his swimmer inspires her teammates, especially the younger ones.
“There are so many young Tsunami Saipan swimmers who look up to her,” said Kimura.
The Tsunami Saipan coach said Watanabe serves as a mentor to Ashley Dangol, Shoko and Asaka Litulumar, Julia Jinang, Aoi Braxton, Ayumi Obligacion, Michelle Chen, Cassie and Fiona Reagan, and Maria Batallones. Tsunami Saipan’s batch of young swimmers, according to Kimura, will also make their mark in the sport in the near future.