Athletes of the Week: Swim standouts Ari Kaufman and Isabelle Borke

Published: Nov. 2, 2022 at 10:48 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The COVID-19 pandemic set a lot of athletes back, whether due to lack of facilities or practice time.

However, two standout swimmers in Anchorage used it to propel them to the next level.

”COVID made me want to train harder because I was out of the pool for a while, and when I came back, I was like, ‘I really missed this and I want to do good,’” Dimond senior Isabelle Borke said.

“It was in quarantine when I had nothing do to, so I decided to ramp my swimming up a little bit,” West Anchorage senior Ari Kaufman said.

Ari Kaufman

Not all of our Athletes of the Week candidates start out with such promise. When Ari Kaufman hopped into the West Anchorage pool his freshman season, his coaches said they knew he had his work cut out for him.

”The lifeguards were worried he was going to drown, and I didn’t think that was an unreasonable conclusion for them to arrive at,” West Anchorage head swim coach Lauren Langford said. “It was kind of like having a Labrador Retriever puppy in the pool, he was all energy and all feet, and same big smile that he has now, very charismatic, very hungry to learn, and even then, supported by an incredible family.”

“Going into freshman year, I had no care for swimming,” Kaufman said. “I just did it to be on the diving team — for freeride skiing — but eventually, I just really started getting into it ... I enjoyed the challenge and it just got really fun to push myself, I wasn’t at all concerned with time.”

However, West knew they had something to work in Kaufman — a 6-foot-6 pure athlete with size 16 flippers he calls feet.

“We were standing in the meeting earlier and I nudged one of my other captains and I said, ‘Do you ever just look at Ari’s feet?’ and she was like, ‘I haven’t, but now I am and I can’t stop,” Langford said with a laugh.

“It is kind of weird coming from the kid who nobody really cared about in the world of swimming, to being a person that people look up to and ask for advice,” Kaufman said at the Region IV championship meet. “... The pressure, initially, when I started rising up, it was hard knowing people had expectations, but I have learned just to focus on myself, not worry about anything else.”

Kaufman boasts a 4.34 GPA (weighted) in the classroom and hopes to swim collegiately next year.

Isabelle Borke

Dimond senior Isabelle Borke had a more traditional rise to the top of the podium as a competitive swimmer much of her life. What puts her in a different pool than her peers is her mindset every time she touches the water.

“She races everybody all the time,” Dimond head swim coach Scott O’Brien said. “Warm-ups, warm-downs, boys, girls, it doesn’t matter, she always wants to be first.”

Borke explained that her motivation comes naturally.

”I don’t know, I feel like I am really driven and motivated in practice,” Borke added. “I’m never like, ‘Scott, I don’t want to do that,’ I’m always like, yes, I want a hard set, I want to work hard, I like being in pain and tired because it will make me better in the end.”

Already a state champion swimmer with the Dimond Lynx, a perennial state champion-contending school, Borke cleaned up at the Region IV meet, taking gold in the girls 50-yard freestyle, the 100-yard freestyle and was a part of the winning 200-yard medley relay team.

From atop the podium, Borke encourages others to “just keep swimming”.

“I just want swimmers to know that they can always get better and improve, because I was not the fastest as a freshman, and I worked hard and trained hard and now I am like, pretty good, so I feel like even if you’re not good now, there is always a chance for you to improve.”

Borke currently sits with a 4.1 GPA and has narrowed her collegiate choices down to two schools — one Div. II school and another Div. I program — where she will swim at the next level.

The 2022 ASAA Alaska State Swim Championships are set for Nov. 4 and 5 at the Bartlett High swimming pool.