Parents want their children to be well rounded. Many have them try out a medley of sports at a young age. For Seminole High School junior Stephanie Akakabota nothing stuck right away—which is ok. Because Spectrum Sports 360 reporter Despina Barton explains how she’s become an elite athlete in her own time and how she’s finding success in two very different arena’s:
- Stephanie Akakabota shaved 5 seconds off her 50-freestyle this summer
- She has performed on piano twice at Carnegie Hall
- The junior swimmer at Seminole High School is eying down state meet
Nearly seven days a week you can find Stephanie Akakabota in the pool.
The Seminole High School junior spends early mornings and late afternoons here at the Larry A. Dale Aquatic Center putting in reps.
“I went a really long time without competing, I just trained, trained, trained and then in June I realized that I was on a completely different level than I was before,” Akakabota said of her time at the pool.
“Well she wasn’t very good, at first,” Seminole Varsity Swim Coach Tony Ackerson explained. “She was on our JV group and she spent a year there she tried out for water polo at the end of her freshman year and she was horrible at water polo.”
Where most kids would have thrown in the towel, Akakabota asked for help.
“The next morning she’s here at the pool at 5:15 in the morning,” Ackerson said. “She became a student of the sport.”
Akakabota devoted herself to showing up every day and learning the intricacies of being an elite swimmer.
Ironically they were similar to the tactics she uses at home while practicing piano.
“I think it was so easy to learn at the time because I feel like I learned anything harder than that at 5 years old I would have just quit really quickly,” Akakabota said of first picking up piano.
“I really liked then I also found that my instructors would tell my parents that I had a gift at it.”
A gift she’s mastered to earn the prestigious honor of performing at Carnegie Hall, twice.
“The room was huge, the pianos were huge everyone looked like they knew what they were doing except for me of course—everyone looked like they’d been doing this, practicing this for their entire lives and I just stumbled into it,” Akakabota said of seeing Carnegie Hall for the first time.
Stumbled into it if you mean, playing the piano the last 12 years and consistently practicing two hours a day.
It’s the same approach and work ethic she uses to glide faster than everybody in the pool.
“So she takes it day-to-day just doing what she is supposed to do,” Ackerson said of her approach. “I don’t think she’s concerned about what her final place is going to be because you can’t control that.”
The mindset and discipline has translated to success. She’s won every single 50-free race she’s entered this high school season, is setting new records and is climbing the ranks of the national swim scene with the 11th best time in the 50 free in her age bracket.
“I really don’t think about anything while I’m racing I only think about what I’m doing at practice –that’s when I do most of my thinking and when I get to race day I just clear my mind,” Akakabota explained.
From Coach Ackerson’s perspective, the transformation she’s undergone is something he’s never witness in his 32 years of coaching.
“Everyone on our team improves and most kids they get better from year to year to year but to go from being a JV level kid to being a national level swimmer –she has US Open cuts now—she’s one of the best swimmers in the United States and its all 100% of it is self-made determination. All the things we always preach to kids but she actually took it to heart and went to a totally different level.”
So 20 months after having a tough conversation with her swim coach Stephanie Akakabota has proven that hard work can pay off—no matter the playing field. Here’s her message to those reading this story.
“Anybody who’s on JV or at a lower level in swimming I want them to know that you don’t need to be naturally gifted to do well at swimming – It just really takes effort, hard work and being detail orientated.”
District Meets begin for Seminole’s swim team Monday, October 28th.