Russian transfer works toward Junior Nationals

Shauna Perigo

For swimmer Yaroslav Kurakin, it was the big moment, the race that would determine whether or not he would make Junior Nationals that weekend.

Junior Yaroslav Kurakin dives into the pool at the start of a 100 yard butterfly race at a Redwood home meet March 15. Kurakin has responded to a disappointing near-miss at the cut for Junior Nationals by continuing to practice eight times a week.
Junior Yaroslav Kurakin dives into the pool at the start of a 100 yard butterfly race at a Redwood home meet March 15. Kurakin has responded to a disappointing near-miss at the cut for Junior Nationals by continuing to practice eight times a week.

Kurakin was ready. He had been training hard eight times a week for this moment – a shot at Junior Nationals in the 200 butterfly, his best event.

Kurakin dove in and swam like his life depended on it. After the race, he glanced at the clock, only to see he had missed the cut by a sliver of a second.

Over the weekend of March 2, the junior missed the Junior Nationals cut by 0.81 seconds at a swim meet in Clovis, California, but Kurakin said he has not let missing the cut discourage him from working hard in practice every day for another chance to qualify.

Today, a little over a year after moving here from Khabarovsk, Russia, Kurakin swims for both a club team, North Bay Aquatics (NBA), and the Redwood team.

Kurakin currently attends NBA practices eight times a week: five afternoon swimming practices, two morning dry land practices, and one morning swimming practice, in addition to one Redwood practice a week. He competes in meets for both North Bay and Redwood.

Kurakin said he hopes to qualify for Junior Nationals sometime between now and August, so he can compete in the meet later that month. He also said that he hopes to swim in college.

Kurakin has been swimming for 12 years, and moved from Russia to California in 2011.

When Kurakin moved here, he immediately joined North Bay Aquatics and said joining the team so soon after he moved helped him with the tough transition between countries.

“I started swimming a week after I came, and it really helped me on a psychological level,” Kurakin said. “I did what I knew how to do.”

One of the main reasons moving to America was hard for Kurakin was because he knew very little English when he came here. Now, just over a year later, he can speak fluently.

“Basically my knowledge about English was how to use the dictionary,” Kurakin said.

Kurakin said the first few months here were very hard, and he had to spend a lot of time learning English, in addition to schoolwork and swimming commitments.

“I sleep less than everybody else, I guess,” Kurakin said.

Kurakin said that missing his friends in Russia is the hardest part of moving to California but said he has adjusted well to his new swim team.

“I miss friends – my old Russian swim team and a few friends from school. But I love my team now,” Kurakin said.

According to Kurakin, the hard work he puts in at practice every day is one of his favorite things about swimming, as well as the fact that it is such a beautiful sport.

“You feel yourself doing something beautiful, because the sport of swimming is beautiful,” Kurakin said. “What I like in swimming is that it is beautiful in itself, and I swim butterfly because it is the most beautiful stroke in my opinion.”

Kurakin grew up swimming in Russia, and said that although fewer people participated in swimming there, the team involved a similar level of commitment.

“In my home town, it wasn’t a really big team. We didn’t have as many people as we have here,” he said. “But it was a competitive team, and basically it’s not very different than what I’m doing here at North Bay.”

According to Kurakin, there is also a different attitude surrounding swimming and sports in general in Russia. He said that much more people are knowledgeable about and participate in sports in the U.S. than in Russia.

Kurakin, who was not allowed to compete for the Redwood swim team last year due to restrictions on transfer students playing sports, said that he is excited for the high school season.