Backstroking to Beijing

While most Hawaii residents look forward to the Olympics as a chance to witness the world's greatest athletes compete in a global arena, one local athlete will actually get to experience the competition in what will be a monumental achievement for an individual and a country.

Local swimmer Jared Heine will represent the Marshall Islands in its first Olympics since being recognized by the International Olympic Committee in 2006. Born in Guam, Heine moved to Hawaii when he was 13. Though his Marshallese dual-citizenship is through his mother, and allows him to compete for the Marshall Islands, Hawaii is his home.

This won't be the first time Heine will represent the Marshall Islands. He has competed in World Championships in Barcelona (2003), Montreal (2005) and Melbourne (2007). In June he will compete in the Oceanic Championships held in New Zealand, swimming the 50-meter backstroke, 100-meter backstroke, 50-meter freestyle and the 100-meter butterfly.

His devotion to swimming started at age six and has been a continual quest for improvement since. While attending Damien High School, Heine also swam for Kamehameha Swim Club under Head Coaches, Kevin and John Flanagan. "I wasn't even sure I wanted to swim in college," said Heine, "but with Kevin and John's assistance and support, I did. I walked onto the Florida State University swim team and ended up a scholarship athlete."

Heine graduated from FSU in 2006, the same year the Marshall Islands was accepted as an Olympic competitor. The same year, Heine was invited to represent the Marshall Islands at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Committed, Heine again enlisted the coaching and training expertise of Kevin and John. "They are accomplished in both swimming and coaching. Kamehameha Swim Club dominates Hawaii swimming, but they always check their egos at the door. They train swimmers for long-term success, not just success for the sake of the team. They see a bigger picture," says Heine. "They know when to push and when not to. I knew I wanted to train with them."

Six out of seven days, Heine is training at The Oahu Club in Hawaii Kai, swimming anywhere from 18,000 to 75,000 meters per week, and weight training. "I wouldn't normally train seven days, but I get in on Sundays to not lose the feel of the water," said Heine. At the time of this interview, he was completing his workout, walking underwater with a 25-lb weight for the length of the 50-meter pool. "I do it about six to eight times. It helps to expand my lungs and length of time I'm able to stay under water," says Heine. He also says that, albeit being held under water by a 25-lb weight and having to propel his body forward, it is the most peaceful part of his training. He lets his mind relax. Though that may be the only time he allows his mind to relax. "Swimming is such a solitary sport, you really have to remain focused. Being alone leaves time for negative thoughts to creep in. Negative thoughts affect performance. I try to focus on my technique, timing and swimming," says Heine. "Swimming is unique in that you push yourself while being broken down. You become faster at your weakest point."

As if training was not enough, Heine has also had to sacrifice and alter every aspect of his life. From mental and physical rest, to limited nightlife, to ensuring he is consuming enough calories to support his exertion, preparation is seemingly a full-time job. "Financially, it's harder because you don't have the time to have a job. Swimming is your job," says Heine. Fortunately, Heine has found support through coaching. He works part-time as a coach for Kamehameha Swim Club. After the Olympics, Heine says his swimming career will likely come to end, but that he would love to continue coaching.

Heine realizes that his chances of earning an Olympic medal are slim, but he also realizes that he is living out a dream that he and many athletes have, but only a few achieve. "I just want to swim my best time. That's my realistic goal," says Heine. According to Heine, just being able to compete is a big accomplishment and a goal he will have reached come August. He is very grateful for the opportunities bestowed in his life and attributes much of his success to his mother and coaches.

On August 4, 2008, Jared Heine will depart for Beijing, China along with his mother and coach Kevin Flanagan for the Olympic games. He will carry the Marshallese flag in the opening ceremony not only as a symbol of country representation, but also as a symbol of the first Olympic athlete for the first Olympics that the Marshall Islands will ever compete in.