With the world shutting down, we’re reaching into our archives and pulling some of our favorite stories from the SwimSwam print edition to share online. If you’d like to read more of this kind of story, you can subscribe to get a print (and digital) version of SwimSwam Magazine here. This story was originally published in the 2019 Year In Review edition of SwimSwam Magazine.
“Rhythm, timing, and pattern.”
These three elements are essential in maintaining a smooth, efficient stroke … and in playing the piano.
Not only does Stephanie Akakabota, a 15-year-old from Lake Mary, Florida, fly through the water with a 26.22 long course 50 free time, but her fingers fly across the keyboard. Akakabota has been nationally recognized for her musical talents, and she performed at Carnegie Hall twice, once in 2018 and once in 2019, after her audition tape for a national competition was selected.
Akakabota began swimming and playing the piano when she was between 5 and 6 years old. Her parents wanted her to know how to swim, but Akakabota never truly took the sport seriously until her freshman year of high school. Playing the piano was also her parents’ influence; they wanted her to learn how to play an instrument because neither of them had a musical background.
“Once I started piano, I immediately took to it,” Akakabota said.
Akakabota’s life in the water and her life on the bench intermix in more ways than one. She said her skills complement one another, allowing her to be successful in both fields.
“Both swimming and music are about rhythm, timing, and pattern,” she said, adding, “My fast reaction times help in more difficult piano pieces, and my knowledge of tempo might help with keeping pace.”
Practicing swimming and practicing piano have parallels, and so do their performances. Akakabota likened performing at Carnegie Hall to being in the water at Futures.
“My experience at Carnegie was surreal — I’ve never experienced anything like it. I was surrounded by highly talented individuals, and I didn’t even know much about the musical world myself,” she said.
She added that “the nerves at Carnegie were very similar to the nerves I felt at Futures: I wanted both to go well, and knew I was being watched by many.”
Akakabota has her sights set on a bright future. She recently broke her high school’s 21-year-old 50 freestyle record in 23.12. But she’s not stopping there.
“I would also love to attend the Olympic Trials next year and sharpen the small details of my race,” she said. “In the future, I would love to swim and compete at the collegiate level.”
With music, Akakabota hopes to play at Carnegie Hall again and to get another invitation to play the piano internationally. (She had been invited to the International Student Exchange program in Vienna and Austria but couldn’t attend because of the short notice.)
Until then, Akakabota will continue doing what she does best: performing.