Olympic Hopefuls

Brian WilkinsonMay 15, 2013 

Cheyenne Coffman used to swim in the Yosemite High School pool, competing against the Badgers when she lived in Prather and was a member of the Sierra High swim team. She was named the North Sequoia League MVP swimmer four times. She also played water polo and basketball and was all-league in all three sports in her junior and senior year. As a senior she was the league MVP in all three sports.

She graduated in 2007, but was back at Yosemite last Thursday to give a swimming clinic to the delight of members of the Yosemite Swim Club.

When she arrived at Fresno Pacific University after graduating from Sierra, she made the life-changing decision to focus on swimming year-round -- a decision, along with plenty of dedication and hard work, that has led to her becoming a world-class swimmer.

"I always wanted to be a college athlete but I was torn between basketball and swimming," Coffman said. "My high school coach, Frank Koop, told me when I was a freshman in high school that if I kept swimming I could make it to the Olympics," Coffman said. "I told him that would be cool, but in my head I was screaming no way -- I had never even trained in a Olympic pool. But I was a confident athlete and if someone believed in me, it just fueled the fire."

Coffman had out-of-state college offers to play basketball, but ended-up deciding to swim for Fresno Pacific, the only college offer she had to swim.

She swam for five seasons (one a red-shirt season) and was the team leader that brought a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Championships to Fresno Pacific University in 2012.

She's a multiple NAIA National Champion and holds four NAIA records in the 50 and 100 freestyle, and the 100 and 200 backstroke. She won the 100 backstroke NAIA Nationals four times, the 50 freestyle three times, the 100 freestyle twice and was named an NAIA First Team All American.

While a member of the Fresno Pacific swim team, she was a three-time individual national champion, with record-breaking times in the 50 and 100 freestyles, and 100 backstroke. She was also a member of five Fresno Pacific national championship relay teams.

Her Fresno Pacific coach, Peter Richardson, once said "there has never been anyone in the NAIA who swims as fast as Cheyenne."

2012 Olympic Trials

Then came the June 2012 Olympic Trials in Omaha. Coffman said a committed coaching staff at Fresno Pacific, including Richardson, prepared her for the trials and gave her the confidence to dream big and have the confidence that she could do it.

She placed 10th in the 100 meter backstroke in her best time ever, 1:00.94, with the top six finishers going to London.

"I swam in the same heat as my high school idol Natalie Coughlin," Coffman said.

She also placed 39 out of 157 swimmers in the 50 freestyle (25.94) and 43rd in the 100 freestyle (56.51).

Coffman, a statuesque 6-1, 150 pounder, said the highlight of the Olympic Trials was the moment she walked out onto the pool deck. "It was like being at an NBA game and I was the player that everyone came to see," said Coffman. "I just felt like a professional. It was truly amazing to be a part of it."

She admits to be a "little starstruck," seeing Coughlin and Missy Franklin for the first time, the later gong on to win gold at the London Olympics.

"It was one of the most exciting moments to stand up on the starting blocks next to a heat of amazing swimmers," Coffman said. "The moment meant more than words can describe."

Now training at Fresno State as a volunteer assistant coach and planning to be an occupational therapist, Coffman is committed to the 2016 Olympic Trials and making the U.S. Olympic team that will compete in Rio De Janeiro. She is well on her way, currently ranked No. 5 in the country in 100 backstroke.

"I feel I am still very young in the sport when it comes to experience," Coffman said. "Girls like Missy Franklin swim year-round from the time they are eight years old, and I only started year-round swimming when I was 17. I plan on being on the U.S.A. 2016 Olympic team.'

Her training schedule is brutal. Eighteen hours a week in the pool, nine hours a week in the weight room, 30 minutes a day stretching and running twice a week. To fuel her body, she daily consumes 600 grams of carbs and 125 grams of protein via smoothies.

Yosemite Swim Club

"We are grateful to be partners with Cheyenne," said Yosemite Swim Club head coach Jules Tuggle. "She has been coming to Yosemite High doing clinics for us one to two times a month. Our swimmers get to be coached and mentored by a world class athlete and we are helping her raise funds to support her Olympic training."

Tuggle said Coffman brings a wealth of knowledge and has a wonderful presence with the swimmers.

"She also embodies the hope and possibility that is the Olympic dream and we are all better swimmers, coaches and people for having her work with our team," Tuggle said. "Cheyenne is a young woman from a small mountain town, who through hard work and extreme dedication, has made herself a serious contender for the 2016 Olympics."

Coffman enjoys working with the young swimmers.

"There is truly no other experience that is as fulfilling and rewarding as teaching," Coffman said. "I love working with young people and hope to be doing it the rest of my life.'

The swim club has 85 members and is still accepting members for the season.

Details: Jules Tuggle, (559) 760-3882.

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