Grace Ariola and Melissa Pish photo

Grace Ariola, left, and Melissa Pish of the Bloomington-Normal YMCA Waves Swim Team will have each other's back as they travel to Singapore for the World Junior Championships Aug. 25-30.

BLOOMINGTON — What sort of 15-year-old athletes stay up until 2 a.m. and sleep until 11?

If you're Grace Ariola and Melissa Pish, the answer is smart.

The Bloomington-Normal YMCA Waves swimmers are trying to adjust their sleep patterns so they can shine in the FINA World Junior Championships at Singapore Aug. 25-30.

In the storied history of the Waves, who have pumped many stars into the Division I college ranks, Ariola and Pish are the first to qualify for this international meet limited to those ages 14 to 17. Only one other U.S. club has more than one girl on the 22-member national team.

"It's crazy," said Ariola of trying to adjust to a time zone 13 hours ahead.

A sophomore at Normal Community High School, Ariola, and Pish, a Normal West sophomore, usually arise at 4 a.m. for 5 a.m. workouts.

After training as much as 20 hours in a week and 4½ hours in a day, the pair logged lifetime bests while qualifying for Singapore at the USA Senior Nationals in San Antonio earlier this month.

Ariola sped the 100-meter backstroke in 1 minute, 0.62 seconds, which is the top time by a U.S. 15-year-old this year and the fourth best U.S. mark ever in the 15-16 age division.

Only 11 Americans and 37 women in the world of any age are faster this year than Ariola, who also will try to lower her 200 backstroke best of 2:11.56 in Singapore while Pish competes in the 200 freestyle and the four-by-200 freestyle relay.

Both have qualified for the 2016 Olympic Trials June 26-July 3 in Omaha, Neb. Ariola made it in the 100 and 200 back and the 400 free and Pish in the 100, 200, 400 and 800 free.

They are already on the recruiting radar of the top Division I college swimming programs including Stanford and California.

"They are probably some of the most sought after recruits in their class," said Waves coach Heather Fort.

After competing in the junior and senior nationals in quick succession, Pish admits it will be a challenge to peak again and lower her personal best of 2:00.85.

"It's always really interesting trying to hold a taper for that long going into more meets," she said.

Pish got her start with the Marlins Swim Team while Ariola got hers at Four Seasons. At age 7 they joined the Waves where they blossomed the next six years under Fort. Charlie Yourd has coached them the past two years in collaboration with Fort.

"(Fort) is doing a great job," Yourd said. "I'm lucky to have her here."

Both coaches feel fortunate to have Ariola and Pish.

"They were special kids right from the beginning," said Fort, noting both are stellar students as well.

Strong study habits will come in handy when they return after missing two weeks of school.

"Both Grace and Melissa are talented, driven individuals that work very hard in the pool and in their personal lives," Yourd said.

Both have learned to use a stubborn streak to their advantage when it comes to never giving up. Ariola, for one, didn't let a broken right foot sideline her this summer.

"I really didn't know how bad I broke it so I was just like, 'I'm going to make it,'" she said. "I don't care. I'm going to make it."

As some have tried to make Pish alter her "weird" swimming style, she has stuck to her guns all the way to Singapore.

"She wouldn't let anybody change it and it's working," Ariola said.

Both are elated they'll be together for their first trip abroad.

"It's nice to know there is someone there that you can kind of check everything with," Pish said.

"She knows everything about airports," added Ariola during an afternoon interview when both seemed full of pep and bedtime was 12 hours away.

​Follow Randy Sharer on Twitter: @pg_sharer



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

Load comments