Teen swimmer sets sights on Palaro gold

Teen swimmer sets sights on Palaro gold
GOLD MEDALIST. Dumaguete City’s Kacie Gabrielle Tionko shows the medals she won during the Central Visayas Regional Athletic Association Meet held last May in Cebu City. / Contributed
Teen swimmer sets sights on Palaro gold
TEAMWORK. Kacie Gabrielle Tionko poses with her coach and teammates. / Contributed

For a student, every day begins almost at the crack of dawn. They wake up and prepare for school, with classes stretching throughout the day and ending at 5 p.m.

But the day doesn’t end with the final school bell for a student-athlete.

Immediately after, they gear up for training sessions.

A swimmer student-athlete, for instance, drags herself out of the pool, her muscles burning and her limbs heavy. She trudges home, each step reminding her of the waves crashing against her body.

The next morning, the stiffness in her shoulders and legs greet her like familiar friends. Despite the soreness, she pushes herself out of bed and juggles a heavier academic and sports workload.

Just like the waves, she finds her rhythm. She begins to learn that every stroke in the pool is a walk in the park, realizing that every day is just a test of determination and endurance.

Meet Kacie Gabrielle Tionko, a 16-year-old swimmer from Dumaguete City who is determined to make waves in the upcoming Palarong Pambansa 2024.

Her recent dominance at the Central Visayas Regional Athletic Association (Cviraa) Meet 2024, where she garnered seven gold medals, slingshotted her off to her spot in the Palarong Pambansa 2024. However victorious she felt, Tionko’s roots in swimming have always been as formidable as she is now.

Swimming Prodigy

Tionko’s journey began at the age of four, when she joined summer learn-to-swim lessons. Her passion for the sport was ignited by the support of her mother, who got her into swimming.

“My mom was the one who got me into swimming. She was a swimmer herself in high school and made it to Cviraa as well, but she figured that she started too late, so she let me join at a young age,” Tionko said.

Tionko joined the Negros Oriental Blue Dolphins Swim Club at the age of five and started competing in her first competition, where she won a couple of medals.

At seven years old, Tionko was awarded the most bemedaled swimmer in her first out-of-town swim meet in Cebu City.

From there, she continued to join invitational swim meets, where she first joined a city meet and qualified for regionals.

In Grade 6, Tionko won seven gold medals in the Cviraa and qualified for Palaro, but she didn’t get to compete because it was during the pandemic.

After the pandemic, Tionko qualified again for Palaro 2023 and won a gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle and a bronze medal in the 200-meter freestyle.

This year’s Palarong Pambansa, Tionko is set to compete and represent Region 7, the Central Visayas Region.

Student-athlete role

Despite the challenges of swimming and studying, Tionko has learned to manage her time effectively.

“One of the many challenges I face as a young swimmer is trying to balance my studies and swimming. I have to continue training every day while still maintaining good grades. This is very difficult because it affects my sleeping schedule and social life and it often gets repetitive, boring and lonely, but I push through,” she said.

The young swimmer said that focus either depends on the weight of academics or training, but to minimize distractions, she asserted that “training is for training and studying is for studying.”

Tionko’s success at the Cviraa was the result of both mental and physical preparation. “Of course, I had to train twice a day for all the days of the week, but I also had to condition my mind for the competition to be able to focus.”

Tionko further added that music helped her during the Cviraa because it would help calm her nerves before she swam.

Stay Afloat

Tionko’s goals are clear, “I aim to get more medals than I did last year, make new friends, try to break a Palaro record and most importantly, I aim to break all of my best times. I know Palaro will be extremely challenging because there are so many talented swimmers, but I will do my best.”

Despite the hefty number of gold medals, the sport always reserves moments for a nervous yet prepared kid like her.

“The pressure can get to me, but I developed this mindset where if I don’t do so well in a swim, I move on and focus on my next swims and try not to think of how I most probably disappointed people. If I keep dwelling on something I can’t change anymore, it would affect the rest of my events, so I try to just accept the results and focus on the other events,” she added.

Her impressive collection of gold medals has been a testament to her endurance in the sport, supported by people like her coach, Rosethan Siroy, who believes in her potential and helps her forge paths to something greater.

Looking Ahead

Even after the Palarong Pambansa, Tionko relentlessly prepares for national swimming tryouts scheduled for August.

“This competition is what I am preparing for the most because if I qualify, that would mean that I would represent the country all year round and I badly want that,” Tionko said.

Further, she said that she wants to participate in the world championships as well. The young contender sets her eyes on the Southeast Asian Games, with hopes of getting a gold medal and setting a new record.

As Tionko prepares to make a splash in the upcoming competition, she carries with her the dreams of a young swimmer who has dedicated countless hours to her craft, knowing that the weight of gold medals won’t anchor her down but will propel her to swim faster than before.

With the support of her family, coach and teammates, the rising star has this to say: “Keep going even if it gets tiring at times. If you do a bad swim, you should take it as a lesson and not get discouraged. You have to want it more than anyone else. Keep being hungry.” (Rachel Gabiola and Juvffe Almendras, NWSSU and UP Cebu Interns)

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