Every second counts. When you measure yourself down to the millisecond, it is only through a strong work ethic, passion and sheer willpower that could make someone jump back into freezing water, before the sun is up, to shave off just half a second more from the night before.
Samuel Jo has made waves in his first semester for not only breaking records twice his age, but for becoming the first Lancer in 26 years to win two state titles at the CCCAA (California Community College Athletic Association) championship competition held May 4-6 in the 100 and 200 backstroke.
In the last 50 meters of his 200 backstroke at the championship event on Saturday, Jo managed to secure a three second lead over the silver medalist and broke his own record again. His 200 backstroke is now 1:49.79.
That’s the distance of six blue whales, 100 feet per whale, in under two minutes.
He even quenched the five year South Coast Conference Swimmer of the Year drought, a recognition he shared with Mt. San Antonio’s Spencer Chlebowski.
“I didn’t know that we hadn’t won,” Jo said about the drought. “I kinda want to make that a tradition again.”
When contemplating titles and winning, Jo doesn’t only think of himself but about how his team can succeed alongside him. If Jo had a say, his whole team would be swimmer of the year. Jo’s records adds to coach Terry Stoddard’s growing list of now nine school records set in his 18 years coaching.
Jo comes from a family of fish, his parents swam for their high schools in Seoul, Korea before moving to the United States where they started coaching. So it’s no surprise he started swimming when he was just eight years old.
After he graduated from high school he took a semester off from swimming to attend Arizona State University for Exercise and Wellness. The time between CIF in May and December, Jo described as “four months of freedom” but freedom short lived. Jo noticed a change in his attention span when he stopped swimming and tried to supplement with other activities.
“I played basketball with my friends [because] I was always jittery in class, and that helped. It definitely helped take my mind off my schoolwork. I was horrible, I couldn’t make a shot. But it helped,” Jo said about ASU.
Jo could only play basketball for so long before he missed the long hours in the pool. He had heard about Stoddard and his program at PCC before transferring to join the team. If anyone was going to help Jo get not only back into his high school best but excel past that, it was Stoddard’s program.
“It’s a year-round sport. That put him in a place where he had to work hard and he’s a hard worker,” Stoddard said.
While most transfer students are focused solely on their studies, athletes like Jo must maintain their attention on grades while conditioning to beat the person they were yesterday.
A typical day at PCC for Jo starts at five a.m. at the pool and practice for two hours. Following practice, Jo had a morning class and would then sleep in his car before completing an additional three hours of swim practice on an average of five hours of sleep a night. Jo is the productive individual we sometimes wish we would wake up to be in the morning.
The regimen is something the team works up to and is part of the program Stoddard puts all his swimmers through to qualify them for nationals. They work on technique, breath, and distance.
Jo has been considering adding kendo to his training since coach Joy Lim, Beach Cities Swim in East Los Angeles, suggested it may help with not only his physical training but the mental strength to remain focused on the present moment—something a swimmer needs to keep pace and focus on their strokes distance. When he isn’t in the pool himself, he spends time working with kids and guiding their first kicks.
Coach Stoddard’s direction and faith in the ability of Jo and his teammates are unwavering. The men’s swim team has grown close over the season according to Jo and continues to grow closer still. If this season was a sign of what to expect then there are more accomplishments to be had for Jo and the swim program, in and out of the pool.