SOFLO SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Gabby Banks


By Sharon Robb

PEMBROKE PINES, August 4, 2020—At age 12, Gabby Banks was named to the Jamaican national swim team.

“It was so cool,” remembered Banks. “I love going to different places and countries (Hungary, Peru, Barbados, Bahamas, Aruba, Trinidad, Martinique), that part is so much fun. World Juniors in Hungary has been my biggest meet so far.”

But it wasn’t until she came to South Florida Aquatic Club as a high school freshman at Cypress Bay that Banks came into her own as a swimmer.

“There was more quality training,” Banks said. “I was a little scared of Coach Chris at first. The practices were distance and IM and I never focused on that. It was really hard and I thought ‘oh my gosh, I am going to die,’ but I understood it after a while. The other team I was with I only did sprinting. When I switched teams my endurance built up. I was doing 100s, 200s and longer stuff without dying. At first it was hard. I felt like I was drowning. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It turned out to be great for me.

“I am swimming better than ever,” Banks said. “I am going close to best times in practice. I never trained as hard as I have right now.

“I love Coach Chris as a coach. He has pushed me so much. I do longer distances and stuff like that. I love training with him. He brings out the best in you.”

Banks, 17, started swimming at age 3 in Jamaica. She and her family moved to South Florida when she was 5. She started swimming competitively at 10. Her older sister, now 26, was also a competitive swimmer and former member of the Jamaican national team.

“Ever since I saw her I wanted to go in the pool,” Banks said. “My other sister did track, but I liked swimming better.”

Banks has been getting in shape for college swimming. She committed to Florida State and expects to arrive Aug. 20 in Tallahassee where she will swim for six-time Coach of the Year Neal Studd.

“It was nice to get back into the pool (after the COVID-19 lockdown) and get in shape for college,” Banks said. “I really loved the school when I went on my college visit. I liked the team and the way they bonded. The campus is super pretty and it’s close to home.”

During the COVID-19 lockdown, Banks stayed busy with two basic college classes and an astronomy course, drawing, reading and doing her zoom dryland workouts. She said she caught up on hobbies she doesn’t normally have time to do. She plans to major in studio art and hopes to be a graphic designer.

“The break wasn’t that bad,” Banks said. “I got a chance to rest my body. It was a good little break. When I got back to swimming it really pushed me to try harder to improve.”

While Banks’ international meets including CCAN have been rescheduled for 2021, she plans on focusing on her college studies and swimming this year. The team-oriented swimmer said she will miss her SOFLO team and friends the most. Her fondest SOFLO memories are 2019 Futures, Junior Nationals, the high school senior sendoff including a special catered dinner from Cheesecake Factory.

“It was really nice, a bunch of cars with the younger swimmers came around and were honking and holding up signs. The dinner was nice. We talked and watched the senior videos. It was a perfect send-off.”

Now she is ready for her next journey.

“My goal is to do well in college and to represent Jamaica well,” Banks said. “I went to world juniors last year and the next step for me would be world championships. I am really excited about the future.”

Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com
http://www.swim4soflo.com

SOFLO SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Nick Chaimowitz


By Sharon Robb

PEMBROKE PINES, June 3, 2020–Nick Chaimowitz always liked to swim, but it wasn’t until he joined South Florida Aquatic Club two years ago that he realized how much he loved it.

“I have always liked the sport, but coming to SOFLO took it to a new level,” he said. “It always just resonated with me in a different way like no other sport has.”

Chaimowitz, 18, a Pembroke Pines Charter graduate who is headed to Broward College this fall, switched swim clubs before his junior year at Charter.

“A lot of my friends from school were on SOFLO,” Chaimowitz said. “A lot of it goes to team dynamics. I had friends I could train with, keeping me positive when I was feeling down. I would cheer them on at practice and meets. It was a good environment and the coaching was great.”

Chaimowitz learned to swim at an early age.

“My mom put me in the sport when I was 5,” Chaimowitz said. “She threw me in the pool and hoped I would swim. I loved it. It’s in my blood. Everyone in my family swims except for my Dad.”

Chaimowitz gave up 5-on-5 soccer and taekwondo to focus on swimming. However, there was a time Chaimowitz lost his focus and wondered whether he was going to keep swimming.

“I was in middle school when I didn’t want to swim anymore,” Chaimowitz said. “It was hard for me. It was the same thing every day. But I stayed positive and talked to my mom. She said she could see me swimming for the rest of my life. That cemented into my head.”

Chaimowitz, whose favorite event is the individual medley, has several fond memories of SOFLO.

“But there is one thing that does stick out,” he said. “At practice I was told to swim the 400 IM. I died terribly. I said great. It gave me a new perspective of what practice was going to be like at SOFLO. I knew I would raise my level.”

With every meet Chaimowitz saw himself improve and had several milestones while at SOFLO.

“When I first broke the minute in the 100 freestyle at an Area 2 meet I was so excited and pumped up,” Chaimowitz said. “It really helped my self-confidence and gave me a lot of energy to put in more of an effort than I ever had before in training.”

While Broward College does not have a collegiate swimming program, he would like to continue competitive swimming at SOFLO as well as recreationally. He plans to major in physical therapy and exercise science and also has an interest in flying since his uncle is a pilot.

“At this point I cannot imagine life without swimming, I get to socialize with my friends,” Chaimowitz said. “When I’m stressed or upset at something or myself, I go back to the pool and swim laps. It puts me at peace and relieves my problems and stress. For me, it will be a lifelong sport.”

Chaimowitz handled the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown well. In addition to his SOFLO Zoom workouts, he finished school two weeks ago after “an excessive amount of homework.” He socialized with neighbors and friends at a safe distance. He played football, kickball and basketball.

Chaimowitz and his senior class were also part of a special graduation ceremony Charter school officials arranged with social distancing.

“They did something special,” Chaimowitz said. “We would drive through the bus loop and wait in a line six feet apart. When your name was called we went up to the fountain for pictures in our cap and gown. Then we did our school tradition taking our uniform shirts and throwing them up in a tree. It was great. Channel 6 was there. The school taped it so our parents could watch it since they weren’t allowed to attend.”

As far as the future, Chaimowitz said “my goal right now is to get through college and get my degree.” And now, he is just happy to be back in the pool working on getting his Futures cut in the 200 freestyle.

Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com
http://www.swim4soflo.com

SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Amber Hunter

SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Amber Hunter


SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Amber Hunter

High School: West Broward

College: New York University

Amber Hunter said goodbye to her second family last week.

The longtime Comets Swim Team and South Florida Aquatic Club swimmer left for college and next chapter in her life.

“Today was my last official practice with SOFLO,” Hunter wrote on her Facebook page.

“I can’t even begin to say how thankful I am to have been a part of such an amazing team for the past ten years.

“The pool became my home and my teammates became my family. I’ll miss it incredibly but I’m excited for what the future has in store.”

Hunter started swimming with the Comets ten years ago. She was a top butterflier, ranked among the state’s Top 75 swimmers and was one of the club’s Nike Swimmers of the Month.

“Ten years is a long time,” Hunter said. “It’s hard to remember not swimming and being around everybody.”

She got her introduction to the pool when her mom Terri signed her up for lessons at a Pennsylvania pool. When she and her family moved to South Florida, she joined the Comets.

“I guess I liked it and we continued,” Hunter said.

“When we first moved to Florida I really enjoyed the sport,” Hunter said. “I did a few other sports (soccer and softball) but I stuck with swimming.”

The hard part for Hunter during the team’s annual banquet and her final week of practice with her longtime teammates and coaches was knowing it was probably all for the last time, at least until the holiday break.

“I’m not really saying goodbye, I know I will see them,” Hunter said. “I will keep in touch with my close friends and will be able to see how they are doing. It’s not a serious goodbye, I know I will be back.

“I know it will be a change for sure. It is bittersweet. I am going off to college with bigger goals but I am leaving SOFLO/Comets where I got my start.”

When Hunter started searching for colleges, academics was always the priority for the aspiring writer. She would like to write fiction novels and get involved with publishing and editing other novels.

“Academics was the first thing I wanted and I wanted a college that had the major I wanted,” she said.

“NYU did offer Division 3 swimming and has a sanctioned team,” Hunter said. “I have the best of both worlds with academics and swimming.

“Division 3 is a little bit of a different atmosphere. There is less stress on swimmers. It’s for swimmers who want to be there since there are no swimming scholarships.”

Hunter has plenty of memories from club and high school swimming. Her sophomore year West Broward had a strong 400-yard freestyle relay. “That was a fun relay to race at state,” she said.

“My senior year I made state in the 100 butterfly and finished tenth, second in consolations,” Hunter said. “I didn’t get the times I wanted exactly but I had a lot of fun.

“Swimming really helped me learn a lot of lessons when I was growing up. I learned how to manage my time and about dedication. I think that’s why I stayed in the sport so long. I was focused on my goals and putting in the work paid off in the end.

“It was a lot of fun being part of a team. The team dynamic was great and so was the atmosphere. It was a great thing to be able to stay with a team for so long. I know I am going far away but I am looking forward to the challenge and starting the next chapter of my life.”

Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com

SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Astrid Rigau

SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Astrid Rigau


SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Astrid Rigau

High School: Pembroke Pines Charter

College: St. Leo University

When Astrid Rigau leaves for college in August, saying goodbye to her “second family” at South Florida Aquatic Club will not be easy.

After seven years with the successful Florida Gold Coast club, Rigau made friends with swimmers and coaches while making memories that will last a lifetime.

Even with all the social media available and her scrapbook of photos that the talented photographer has taken through the years, it will still be hard.

“I have already started crying,” Rigau said.

“I went to Charter School since elementary school and it is mostly the same kids. I’ve watched all these swimmers like Alfredo Mesa grow up. They are my brothers and sisters and it will be emotional letting them go. How many months have I been seeing them twice a day? How can they not be family?”

Rigau, a successful high school and club swimmer, will be attending St. Leo University, the oldest Catholic college in Florida and sixth largest in the United States. St. Leo is an NCAA Division II school and competes in the Sunshine State Conference. The Lions are coached by Paul Mangen.

Rigau is following in the footsteps of SOFLO teammate Bianca Muniz, who recently graduated from St. Leo with three school records as anchor swimmer on the 200 and 400 freestyle relays and 400 medley relay. Rigau will join Heritage Aquatic Team swimmer and junior Chantal Boutillier on the St. Leo roster.

Rigau has been swimming with SOFLO for seven years.

“I would wake up at 4 in the morning for 5 a.m. practice, go to school, then afternoon practice and get home at 7,” Rigau said.

“Doing the senior videos for the banquet I was saying goodbye and started crying. I would do everything for my teammates. My room is dedicated to swimming. Honestly, they have been my life, training with them, going out as a team. Even when we are away from the pool we hang out. We all grew up together.”

It seems like only yesterday when Rigau’s mom signed her up for swim lessons after a close call in the pool.

“My parents had a scare when I was 3-years-old,” Rigau remembered. “A family friend pushed me into the deep end of the pool at one of our houses. I grew up in Puerto Rico and I was always around water so she put me in lessons.”

Rigau has always been athletic. She was involved in ballet and dance. When she was in middle school, she tried out for the Comets Swim team and was among 20 swimmers out of 100 who made the cut.

“I had every coach through the years,” she said. “I was in Meteorites, Asteroids and Bronze Group. The kids at school were on the swim team and that made it fun.

“I had a few injuries but no matter what happened I still came back. Something always brought me back.”

Rigau is excited about the next chapter of her life at St. Leo.

“I didn’t think about swimming for a college until my junior year,” she said. “Then I went on a field trip to all six public schools in Florida. I had been to St. Leo for swim camps and meets. Every time I was there I saw the coach and all the swimmers knew me and treated me like Bianca’s little sister. It’s an amazing group.

“I never thought I would be swimming in college. Look at me I am swimming in Division 2,” Rigau said. “I am really thankful to all my coaches for helping me get there.”

Rigau would love to represent Puerto Rico in international competition but wants to see how she does at the college level.

Her most memorable high school swimming moments during her four-year career was Pembroke Pines Charter winning three district team titles and swimming at regions every year.

“I was honored Coach Rose was one of my coaches. I know I gave her a hard time, I admit that,” Rigau said.

“Club swimming was great. The highlights would be doing a best time and winning Senior Championships in our home pool. The experience of being on SOFLO was the highlight of my life already.”

Rigau is expected to make an impact at St. Leo. She will swim the 50- and 100-yard freestyle, 100 butterfly or 200 individual medley and relays.

“With SOFLO as a building block I know I am going to improve,” she said.

Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com
http://www.swim4soflo.com

2013 SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Daniela Jimenez

2013 SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Daniela Jimenez


Age: 17

High School: Hialeah Gardens

College: University of South Florida

Ever since she set foot in a pool ten years ago, Daniela Jimenez has loved to swim.

“I started swimming in classes because my mom wanted me to be water-safe,” Jimenez said.

“I liked it and I told my mom I wanted to stay.”

Daniela’s twin sister, Evelin, followed her to the pool and started swimming with her. The sisters swam on their high school team and South Florida Aquatic Club and now are planning to attend University of South Florida.

Daniela Jimenez has been swimming with SOFLO for nearly two years.

“The reason I transferred teams is I wasn’t being pushed hard enough on my old team,” Jimenez said. “The coach wasn’t as motivating as the one here and I liked being on this team.

“I saw improvement in my swimming right away,” Jimenez said. “My times got better and I got stronger. I got more mentally prepared for races here and I feel better as a person and athlete.”

Jimenez enjoyed both high school and club swimming. She said her biggest moment during high school season was when she won districts in the 500-yard freestyle in a record time. In club swimming, it was making finals at senior championships.

“Swimming taught me how to be a team player and to be more dependent,” Jimenez said.

Jimenez plans on majoring in biology and pre-med and hopes to be a pediatrician working with kids stricken with cancer. “I love working with kids,” she said.

She hopes to swim on the college’s club team when not studying. She hopes to return to SOFLO during college break and holidays.

“SOFLO is my second family,” Jimenez said. “I love it. I am here all the time. Even outside the pool we hang out and go to the movies. I love this team.”

Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com
http://www.swim4soflo.com

2013 SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Evelin Jimenez

2013 SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Evelin Jimenez


Age: 17

High School: Hialeah Gardens

College: University of South Florida

Evelin Jimenez was born to swim.

She started swimming in learn-to-swim classes and competing when she was 7.

“I was bored so I stayed in swimming after I learned,” Jimenez said. “Ever since I started I loved it.

“It was something new for me to try out,” Jimenez said. “I liked the feel of the water and the way I moved with it. It was a good experience for me.”

The Miami-born Jimenez also loved the sport’s social factor. She switched clubs and started training with the South Florida Aquatic Club three years ago.

“I made friends in swimming and through those friends I found SOFLO,” said Jimenez, whose twin Daniela also swims for SOFLO. “They encouraged me and I started improving.

“I am going to miss being able to come here all the time. SOFLO has been like a family to me. I am also excited to graduate and move on.”

Jimenez competed in the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle and butterfly races and loved the sprint events, she said. Among her swim highlights were the Orlando Grand Prix and her junior and senior year at the high school state meet.

“I felt good about the quality of my races and my improvement,” Jimenez said.

Jimenez also loved the fact her sister was on the same team.

“We didn’t really swim the same events,” she said. “If we were in the same event, we were a little competitive. I would try to pass her and she would try to pass me. It was fun. It was nice having someone to share swimming with, experiencing the same things at the same time.”

Jimenez hopes to continue swimming at USF at the club level to stay in shape. She will be taking pre-med and biology her first year and plans to focus on her studies.

“I want to be a doctor and I chose USF because it has a good medical program,” Jimenez said.

Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com
http://www.swim4soflo.com