By Sharon Robb
PEMBROKE PINES, December 28, 2021–Look up the word “determined” in the dictionary and you might just find a photo of Juan Mora.

Determined to prove he was more than a “average swimmer” when he joined South Florida Aquatic Club in 2018.

Determined to show Doral Academy swim coach and former SOFLO age group coach Cathy Silveira he had “that something” she saw in him from the beginning.

Determined to win a state high school title before moving back to California to rejoin his parents and four siblings after being on his own for five months.

The 17-year-old Mother of Divine Grace home schooler accomplished what he set out to do and more.

Competing for Doral Academy, he won the 100-yard breaststroke State 4A title in 54.71 and broke the school record (54.65 in prelims). He was the lone State 4A champion from Miami-Dade and Broward and scored 34 of Doral’s 52 points.

It was the perfect end to a perfect senior season. He was a two-time district and two-time region champion in the 100 breaststroke and 100 butterfly.

“Winning that state title meant everything to me,” Mora said. “I was determined to win. Touching that wall first and hearing my name being announced the winner, it was really an emotional night for me. A lot of tears of joy and the mission was completed.

“That was my biggest meet, the highlight of my career. It was one of the best nights of my life, knowing that I put so much of my life into it and I sacrificed so much and I was finally able to come home with that gold. After that I wrapped things up in Florida and flew home.”

Home is now El Dorado Hills, Calif., 22 miles east of the state capital Sacramento. He is now training with USA Swimming Gold Team Sierra Marlins. He plans to return to South Florida in March for Senior Championships and May for Doral Academy’s graduation ceremonies.

Mora is now making up for lost time with his family. His father, Juan, is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army. He has re-connected with his brothers Alex, 15, and Luke, 11, and sisters Mia, 9, and Ava, 16 months.

Mora has been swimming for nine years. His mother signed him up for lessons while she worked out in the gym. One day the swimming instructor pulled her aside and suggested she enroll him on a summer swim team.

“My swimming took off from there,” Mora said.

When he lived in Virginia, he was a backstroker and set several age group records. A rotator cuff injury forced him to give up the backstroke and he transitioned to the breaststroke.

Mora qualified for the Junior Olympics in 2015 but quit swimming for two years. “It was too much, too soon,” he said. So he played rugby. “I thought about playing rugby in high school but I guess the water kept calling me back. I went back to the summer swim team and then SOFLO. I’m glad I did.”

When the family moved to South Florida, SOFLO happened to be the closest swim club to their home.

“It was kind of a miracle me finding SOFLO, we didn’t really look at swim teams,” Mora said. “It ended up being one of the best teams I could have joined.”

Mora was impressed with SOFLO’s coaches and swimmers.

“I loved the commitment of the team and the swimmers,” he said. “I liked the environment and how the swimmers conducted themselves. It was a motivational environment. Everyone on the team were go-getters. Everybody on the swim team had dreams. It was very motivating to be there.”

SOFLO was Mora’s first year-round club training experience. He had played soccer, rugby and football but decided to focus solely on swimming.

“When I first started SOFLO, the coaches didn’t pay much attention to me, they thought I was just an average swimmer which I was at the time,” Mora admitted. “I could barely do a flip turn and my stroke was okay. I could swim, I wouldn’t drown.

“It was Coach Cathy who saw something in me and she pulled me aside and had a conversation with me. She decided to work with me one-on-one to achieve my goals and get better. Her commitment to me was as a swimmer and military kid because she knew how hard moving was.”

Mora and his family moved eight times while living in Virginia, California and Florida. Silveira also came from a military family background. She helped Mora get into the Naval Academy which he begins at the end of June in Annapolis, Md.

“She was able to connect with me and work with me personally,” Mora said. “That’s why I joined Doral swimming. I owe everything to Coach Cathy. Coach Chris has done a lot for me but Coach Cathy has always been there for me and she always will be. She has done a lot for me and made a huge impact in my life.”

Swimming has helped to mold Mora into the person he had hoped to become.

“Swimming has instilled discipline in me and taught me how to set my priorities which are a big thing in your teenage years,” Mora said. “It takes a disciplined person to set them properly and know how to balance things.

“There were a lot of times where I was struggling balancing swimming and school and everything else, but swimming kind of forces you to do it. When you are on a competitive swim team like that, missing practice is not okay. Being on a team like that picked me up. It made me mentally stronger and taught me about teamwork and what being a leader is.”

Mora’s big turning point in swimming was his sophomore year at Senior Championships when he made his first Futures cut. “I didn’t know what my time was, I just saw the team going wild,” he said. Three days later he was on a plane headed to Futures.

“It was that moment I realized the average swimmer and underdog had potential,” Mora said. “I started to believe in myself and what Coach Cathy saw. I started putting even more work in and started grinding it out. My junior year I just went nuts.”

Mora knew his family was re-locating at the end of his junior year and decided to make the ultimate sacrifice.

“I had worked so hard that I asked my parents to let me stay,” Mora said. “It was hard to leave my family. I stayed behind in Florida for five months and my goal was to win state. I sacrificed time with my family but I knew I needed to do that. I worked too hard so I said goodbye to the family and started training like there was no tomorrow.”

Mora is excited about his future. He hopes to become a Navy Seal, an elite maritime military force.

“Nothing satisfies me more than knowing I am using my God-given gifts for something better,” Mora said. “I would much rather serve and do something good and maybe make a change or give my life trying. I am beyond excited and ready for it. I think it’s a perfect fit for me.”

Each TYR Swimmer of the Month receives a free TYR backpack.

SOFLO sponsor TYR is a USA manufacturer of recreational and competitive swimwear, caps, goggles, triathlon gear and accessories and one of the nation’s top companies.

TYR, created by athletes, is named for the Norse god of warriors in Germanic mythology. Among its male-sponsored athletes are 2020 Olympians Michael Andrew, Tom Shields, Nic Fink, Townley Haas and Jordan Wilimovsky and other elite swimmers Matt Grevers, Maxime Rooney, Jacob Pebley and Ryan Lochte.

Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com