By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Beth Tsuha is in the water, but, for once, she’s not moving all that fast.
Instead, Tsuha is patiently mentoring a young swimmer at a Hilo Aquatic Club practice. Before she takes her talents to the heartland, the 2013 Hilo High graduate is already starting to give back through coaching.
“I think it’s really, really fun,” Tsuha said. “I feel like swimming has done a lot for me: Travel opportunities and it helped with college.
“If I can teach someone how to swim, it’s opening the door for them, too.”
Tsuha will broaden her own horizons later this month when she leaves for Grinnell (Iowa) College. Division III schools can’t offer athletic scholarships, but she earned an academic grant that will cover 75 percent of her financial aid, a nod to both her 3.9 GPA and her six Big Island Interscholastic Federation freestyle gold medals.
Tsuha preferred the academic profile at Grinnell and chose it over a partial athletic scholarship offer she received from Division II Lindenwood in Missouri.
“She was really looking at getting into a really good school,” said Jon Hayashida, who coached Tsuha at Hilo and HAQ. “For Beth, it was academics first, then swimming. She had some choices and picked the one that appealed to her the most.”
Tsuha first got her name out through beRecruited.com, and her swimming times, particularly in the 100 and 200 free, did the rest. She leaves as the reigning BIIF record-holder in the 100 and she won gold in the 200 at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association championships as a junior. Tsuha swept both events at BIIFs her last three years in high school, so it’s no surprise where the Grinnell coaching staff is looking to use her.
“They told me I’ll be an important part of the relays, and there looking at me in the 100 and 200,” said Tsuha, who is interested in studying either physical therapy or occupational therapy.
Tsuha starred on Vikings squads that never won a BIIF team title during her four seasons, but the landscape will be much different at Grinnell. The Pioneers have won 14 of the past 15 Midwest Conference championships under coach Erin Hurley, and the competition to contribute right away figures to be formidable. Grinnell’s roster for the upcoming season lists 48 swimmers, including 12 other freshmen.
However, Hayashida has seen Tsuha rise to the occasion before, especially when she first joined HAQ when she was 13 or 14.
“I saw her really develop,” he said “I think it’s because the exposure to the other swimmers. It’s a different type of competitive spirit.”
While Tsuha enjoyed her visit to Grinnell earlier this year, it made her think she should appreciate the Big Island’s mountains while she still can.
“It’s flat,” she said. “A lot of flat.”
Tsuha is getting ready to enter a grind again, but she says juggling swimming and academics has always made her a more efficient person.
“I think it helps me manage my time better,” she said. “If you have to swim early in the morning, then you have to go to bed earlier and and you get your homework done.
“You have to make sure to get stuff done.”