By Sharon Robb
PEMBROKE PINES, May 10, 2021–In the last twelve years, Michelle Marinheiro not only grew up as a swimmer at South Florida Aquatic Club but as a person.
It was only natural she follow in the footsteps of her older sisters, Marcella and Melissa, both longtime SOFLO swimmers.
“I started swimming at SOFLO because of my two older sisters,” she said. “I was always around there. I would run around the pool deck and people were scared I was going to jump in but my mom would say, ‘it’s okay, she loves the water.’
“I always like to say I was born into it, because I really didn’t have a choice. I remember sleeping on the pool deck when I was little while my mom and sisters were swimming. I found out I could sleep through everything.”
Marinheiro, 18, who graduates from West Broward High School on June 10, forged friendships with coaches and swimmers with memories at SOFLO that will last a lifetime.
Asked what she will miss the most, Marinheiro said “I guess basically everything. SOFLO is like a family. You fight and bicker sometimes, but there are moments where everyone comes together and has your back. I have a lot of memories.”
While living in Brazil, her mother put her in the water when she was 3 months old to make her water-safe. When they were in South Florida for the summer, she started lessons with SOFLO Coach George Mersinger at age 4 1/2. Since then Marinheiro is one of the few swimmers in the program that has worked with every member of the coaching staff.
She played soccer when she was young in Brazil and flag football in eighth grade in South Florida, but swimming became her passion.
“I think when I was with Coach Rose and started getting better I actually thought I could do this,” Michelle said. “When I moved into Travis (Lockie) group I realized I really did enjoy the sport. It wasn’t just something I was put into because of my sisters.”
There were times Marinheiro had her doubts.
“Like any sport, there are some points where you feel like you are doing everything you can, but the results aren’t showing,” she said. “You just have to be patient. I learned that the hard way because I am kind of stubborn.
“Your brain eventually clicks that you can do it. The moment you step back and listen to what your coaches are telling you to do, it will click. They are giving you everything you need to succeed but it’s up to you to use it and make something out of it.
“My advice to the younger kids would be ‘as much as it feels like whatever you are doing is not enough, keep doing it because it does take time to get where you want to be. Take the time that you need and you will get there eventually.'”
After her father passed away, Marinheiro was away from the pool off and on for about five to six months. She came back stronger than ever and knows he is always with her. At Senior Championships she competed in the mile after only two weeks of training.
“My teammates needed the points and I wanted to see what I could do. I was a minute slower but after I finished the event it showed me that I could do it no matter what happens. As long as you try and do what you have to do, the outcome is unlimited. It definitely motivates you.”
Swimming has helped her with everyday life including time management and discipline. If she wasn’t swimming, she said she would be doing performing arts or theater in school.
“Swimming has actually helped me a lot and given me a sense of responsibility,” Marinheiro said. “It helps you understand you have to get things done and prioritize your time. You have to wake up in the morning at 5 a.m. You have practice, then 10 minutes to get ready for school and then after school literally eating in the car before another practice, then homework and going to sleep on time.”
Like her teammates, she managed to survive the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown with zoom dryland workouts and some limited training in her grandmother’s community pool before it was closed.
“At first we thought it would be two weeks, a little break to chill but after it hit the third week we were like seriously, we just want to go outside and get back in the pool,” she said. “The zoom drylands were a bit more of normalcy in a situation that wasn’t normal. It started getting better as time progressed.
“When we finally got back in the pool the first day I was flying through the water. The second day I was swimming so slow. It took a while to get back to where I was.”
Marinheiro is undecided about college but said “I am definitely going to keep swimming for a long time. I really do enjoy the sport. I like the feeling of just swimming.”
She’s also been a role model and when needed helps coach young SOFLO swimmers just coming up including Little Dipper Ellie Phan, at 6, the youngest to compete in several local meets. She wrote a card to Marinheiro that touched her heart.
“She said that because of how I helped her that she basically started to love the sport and to me that really hit home,” Marinheiro said fighting back tears. “The fact that you can share your love for the sport with somebody, it’s the best feeling in the world…a really rewarding feeling and it makes me realize why I do love the sport.”
Marinheiro is one of 23 graduating seniors who will be honored Sunday, May 23 during Seniors Night in an intimate setting at Academic Village Pool. “I can’t promise anything, but I will try not to cry,” she said. “I will bring tissues.”
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com