There is a moment for every champion swimmer, right before the arc of the dive, when the world is at once intensely narrow and gloriously vast.
Space collapses to a tapered blue alley, a cool prism of sparkling friction. Time tightens as gravity loosens. Far away, at the end of a taut trajectory, the laws of physics brace to collide with the resiliency of the human spirit.
In this instant, all things are suddenly possible. And all things depend on will – free will, the purest freedom.
One must know this to understand the aquatic triumphs of UCI’s Kim Do. A quarter century ago, as her family planned its escape from communist Vietnam, water and freedom became inseparable. The ocean was the way out. For months, as the family imagined a new life, Do’s father trained her three older sisters at a pool in the art of swimming – survival swimming.
He knew the voyage would be dangerous, and it was. The overcrowded boat, boarded by pirates and often listing wildly, ultimately found safe harbor in Thailand. There the family stayed for two years in a refugee camp. And there, seven months before they left for America, Kim Do was born.
FROM SURVIVING TO THRIVING
By the time Do was 6, she was already an enthusiastic swimmer, introduced to her future passion by one of her sisters. Since that time, it’s been hard to keep her out of the water.
“Swimming, in a way, is kind of an addiction,” she says. “You just want to do your best. You have these goals and want to accomplish them.”
In the wake of this deep determination, UCI swimming records have been falling. In her four years at UCI, Do has set two school records in the backstroke, and helped her relay team set three UCI records at the Big West Conference championships in February 2004. Earlier, she broke seven school records at her high school in Milpitas, Calif.
“As soon as Kim is ready to race, she becomes a powerhouse,” says relay teammate Katina Economides, who is co-captain with Do this year. “She may be smaller than a lot of swimmers, but she is full of power and stronger than many people could ever imagine.
Do’s achievements and brimming enthusiasm aren’t limited to the pool. Despite 20 hours a week of training, she keeps her grades high as she pursues her degree in applied ecology, an interdisciplinary major in the Schools of Biological Sciences and Social Ecology. Her studies, which include biology and psychology, may lead her to dental school and a career in orthodontics.
“Kim is the kind of student who has taken the academic demands of UCI by the horns,” says Dedra Butler, academic and life skills coordinator in the UCI athletic depart-ment. “She is a wonderful student-athlete who leads by example in and out of the water.”
Last spring, Do was one of 176 UCI students honored by the Big West Conference for academic achievement. That number is the highest on record and emblematic of UCI’s commitment to student-athletes. Services that help athletes soar academically include free tutoring, rescheduling and proctoring of exams, and career counseling and workshops on vital topics.
“It’s hard, of course,” Do says of her competing academic and athletic demands. “But the sacrifices are well worth it,” she quickly adds. “I’m proud to be walking around as an athlete at UCI. It’s an amazing thing to be part of.”
At home in her off-campus apartment, where she is surrounded by two pet turtles, a crab, colorful fish, and a pair of Shiba Inu dogs she adopted, Do is content to be a typical student. The sleek and muscular girl confesses her affinity for Del Taco and In-N-Out Burger, and talks about riding to classes on her scooter. What first impressed her with UCI was its atmosphere of calm. On a recruiting trip, it seemed “pretty and peaceful and safe,” she recalls.
Her thoughts are never far from the future, or future achievements. One of Do’s role models is teammate Lara Bjargardottir, a native of Iceland who seems destined to become an athletic legend at UCI. Bjargardottir, who swam for her homeland at last summer’s Olympic Games in Athens, became the first UCI female swimmer to compete in the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships last March.
“My goal is that she’ll have com-pany this year,” Do says. And peering closely into this quiet confidence, it’s easy to see that in her mind, the dive, the race, has already begun.