Erika Pelaez of South Florida Aquatic Club is the Nike Swimmer of the Month for July.
Pelaez, 8, turned in an outstanding performance at the Florida Gold Coast 14-and-Under Junior Olympics Swimming Championships in mid-July at Plantation Aquatic Complex.
Pelaez, one of the youngest swimmers in the meet, competed in seven events and swam lifetime-best times in every event against a competitive girls’ field.
Pelaez won her favorite event, the 50-meter backstroke in 38.19, lowering her previous best of 38.85. She had three other Top 10 finishes and three Top 15 finishes and has more medals to add to the shelf her father Juan built for her swimming trophies and medals.
“I was really happy about JOs,” said Pelaez, who swims with the Asteroids Group. “I did make a goal before I went into the water and that was my goal for juniors. I had in my mind I wanted to win a gold medal.”
She was also fifth in the 100-meter butterfly in 1:21.03, dropping from 1:34.79; sixth in the 400-meter freestyle in 5:26.36, dropping from 5:35.19 and seventh in the 100-meter backstroke in 1:25.92, dropping from 1:28.16.
Pelaez was 13th in the 200-meter freestyle in 2:39.13 with a huge time drop from her previous best of 2:52.00. She was 12th in the 50-meter butterfly in 37.76, dropping from 38.10 and 14th in the 200-meter individual medley in 3:01.57, dropping from 3:11.25.
“I think because I trained a little bit more and put more effort in my training is why I had a good meet,” Pelaez said. “I love to train.”
Pelaez’s mom Eugenia started her daughter in learn-to-swim classes at age 2 to help her become water safe. Pelaez took to water like a fish. She started competing in races at age 4.
“I really like to swim and I stayed with it,” Pelaez said. She took piano, dance and gymnastics but swimming is her passion.
“I like the whole part of swimming–being healthy and always being ready to be competitive,” Pelaez said. “I always like to be ready for everything. I don’t want to miss any meets. I always like to be there.”
Being young has been an advantage for Pelaez, getting an early start in a sport she loves so much.
“I like swimming against the older girls, it helps give me more power because I push myself,” Pelaez said. “I like to see if I can beat them. I like to compete with them. It helps me go faster. I like to train against boys. I try to be on their feet.”
Her heroes in the sport are the Big Three: Missy Franklin, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.
“My goal is to be an Olympian,” Pelaez said. “I think I have a good advantage because I started so young and I am getting fast. Sometimes I have bad days and I don’t feel like training. Some days I’m not competitive in practice or meets, but mostly I have good days.”
The third-grader is home-schooled and knows how to manage her time outside the pool. She is a straight A student and knows if her grades falter she is out of the pool. She gets all her school and home work done before her nightly practice workouts.
Pelaez started with the Hialeah Blue Marlins and swam there for a year before joining the Comets/SOFLO program.
“After the first year we realized how much she liked swimming,” Eugenia Pelaez said. “It was difficult to find a team that takes kids seriously. The Comets/SOFLO team did appreciate every single swimmer, no matter what their age or ability. We loved that part. They say every single kid has the potential. They make every single kid feel comfortable and important. Every single day they learn something. We love SOFLO.”
Pelaez joins other SOFLO Swimmers of the Month sisters Kathleen and Molly Golding for January, Sebastian Sierra for February, Jessica Rodriguez for March, Leonardo Mateus for April, Rafael Rodriguez for May and Valentina Carrion for June.
The Nike Swimmer of the Month award, chosen by the SOFLO coaching staff, is awarded each month to the swimmer who excels at both swim meets and practice sessions.—Sharon Robb
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com