El Camino swimmer freestyles her way to breaking records


Swimmer Mia Park gets out of the pool at the Aquatics Center on March 8. Teammate Melissa Brill said she is an “all-around good swimmer.” (Anthony Lipari | The Union)

Mia Park wakes up nervous.

She always wakes up nervous before a swim meet.

Her mind starts racing as she thinks about all the races she has to do that day.

On the second day of the swim meet at Mount San Antonio College, the team practices for 30 minutes.

The 18-year-old pre-nursing major tries to relax her body in the water to feel more comfortable and confident before she swims.

On Saturday, Feb. 25, Park took first place in the women’s 1650-yard freestyle and the women’s 400-yard individual medley race, becoming the second fastest in El Camino’s history in both races. She clocked at 18:19.93 and 4:49.46, respectively.

From Japan to South Korea and later to the U.S., she has been setting records in the pool after being on the women’s swim team at El Camino for six months.

Swimmer Mia Park prepares to dive at the Aquatics center on March 8. She said after swimming gin high school she considers swimming more of a team sport. (Reina Queueo | The Union)

Park came to the United States when she was 14 years old and struggled to understand English in eighth grade. She experienced learning difficulties due to language barriers in school because she spoke Korean.

Park began swimming as a hobby when she was eight years old, taking swimming classes in South Korea, and has been swimming ever since. As a South Torrance High School student, she joined the swim team and swam competitively.

“Swimming in high school really helped me because swimming is usually considered an individual sport, but after swimming in high school, I felt like it was kinda like more of a team sport,” Park said.

As a Spartan at South Torrance, Park said she had a good experience swimming in high school. She enjoyed swimming with her friends and meeting new people, intensifying her love for the sport.

Melissa Brill, a 20-year-old biology major on El Camino’s swim and water polo teams said she swam with Park at South Torrance High School for two years.

“We met in high school, and she’s just an all-around good swimmer,” Brill said. “She can do both distance and sprint, which is very impressive.”

Brill said she felt relieved that Park would be on the swim team this semester because Park helps her get faster. Brill said on the swim team, everyone pushes and makes each other better.

“I know her as Sohyeon Park,” Brill said. “When I first met her, I didn’t really know how to pronounce her name, it took me a while, and it’s still taking me a while sometimes.”

Park said she legally changed her name to Mia Park in December 2022.

Brill said Park changed her name because when she meets people now, it may be hard for them to pronounce her given name.

Women’s swimming and water polo coach Shelby Haroldson describes Park as an all-around great person.

“She is a really well-rounded individual, kinda like in the pool and out of the pool,” Haroldson said. “She has a great attitude, great work ethic; overall, a great person.”

Pre-nursing major Mia Park does the freestyle at the Aquatics Center on March 8. Park became the second-fastest swimmer for the 1650m freestyle on Feb. 25.
Mia Park, a pre-nursing major, performs the freestyle at the Aquatics Center on March 8. Park became El Camino’s second-fastest swimmer for the 1650m freestyle on Feb. 25. (Anthony Lipari | The Union)

When Park initially joined the women’s swim team at El Camino, juggling swim practice and academic classes posed a challenge.

“There is a major difference between high school swimming and college swimming,” Brill said.

Brill said they were not required to take an extra weight training class in high school, and the practices weren’t too long. Brill said that considering the extra class, longer practice can be very tough on the body.

“I think my biggest motivation [is] my teammates and the coaches because every time I kinda suck, they try to help me figure out like ways to improve myself,” Park said.

Men’s swimming coach Noah Rubke said he knew Park’s times coming into the team, knowing she was fast.

“She never complains and does every set exactly how it’s described,” Rubke said. “Which is uncommon for most of our swimmers.”

Rubke said that given her ability, she has the chance to break freestyle records in the 50-yard, 100-yard, 200-yard, 500-yard, 1000-yard, 1650-yard, and 200-yard in the butterfly. He believes those races are within Park’s range of ability.

“She has a little bit more of a drive because she’s been swimming for quite some time,” Haroldson said. “[She is] so very talented.”

Rubke said in the last four years, the state champion time in the 500-yard freestyle race has been, on average, five minutes and three seconds, but Park’s lifetime best is four minutes and fifty-eight seconds.

“I think it [swim] can be applied to everyday life,” Park said. “Most of the swimmers try to push themselves and then try to achieve like better goals.”

Park said during practice they do a lot of race simulations.

A race simulation is a technique where coaches give the swimmer a goal time to try to make during practice and match their speed as if they were racing.

“I think we just encourage each other to do the best that we can,” Brill said. “As races go on, every now and then, you’ll see our teammates sitting at the opposite end of the pool cheering for us during our race.”

While Park has plans to continue swimming after El Camino, she finds peace and motivation through swimming with her team.

“[El Camino College] teammates are really good at inspiring each other and pushing each other,” Park said. “They make the pool [a] very comfortable place to go to every day.

Editor’s Note:

  • Updated photo credit in second photo on March 23 at 9:44 a.m.
  • Made correction with measurements on March 21 at 2:33 p.m.