Where are they now? First Flight swimming star Cecilia Cortez

By on November 11, 2019

Cecilia Cortez. (Photo courtesy of the Cortez Family)

When I caught up with former First Flight High and current Johns Hopkins University swimmer Cecilia Cortez, one question on my mind was about how one becomes a competitive swimmer.

It turns out that she has been involved in the sport of swimming since she was around seven years old. She did participate in and enjoy other sports as well, but at some point, she was drawn to the pool. At a young age she joined the Outer Banks Swim Club. Eventually the local YMCA hired swim coaches and the Outer Banks Tidal Waves swim program was launched, absorbing the OBX Swim Club. While a member of the Tidal Waves, she received training from locals Chelsea Larson and Jody O’Donnell. Through the program, she also crossed paths with former Manteo and current NYU swimmer Elise Gibbs who served as an inspiration and mentor of sorts.

In addition to the great coaching and mentorship she received from the Tidal Waves, the program was also responsible for connecting her with Hunter Crook (FFHS) and Valentyna Koudelkova (MHS), who served as training buddies and friends. Crook is now at the University of Illinois at Chicago while Koudelkova is at Occidental College. Cortez even found time to do a little mentoring herself as she trained with young Manteo swimmer Sophie Benkusky, someone she predicts has great potential.

Her time at the YMCA made it clear that swimming was the way for her and by seventh grade, Cortez had given up all other sports to concentrate solely on swimming. All the hard work would pay off at the high school level as she experienced great success under the tutelage of Dave Tonneson and Robert Trivette at First Flight.

It was around her sophomore year when she began to think about being a student-athlete at the collegiate level. At that time, her older brother Kyle was an FFHS senior who was being recruited as a wrestler. Kyle is now a junior at the Naval Academy where he is on the boxing team. Having watched his recruitment play out, Cecilia took things into her own hands and decided to make a call to Johns Hopkins swim coach Scott Armstrong. Armstrong would stay in touch throughout her junior and senior season before eventually offering her a spot on the team.

Fast forward to present day and Cortez is loving every minute of her time as a member of the Hopkins swim team. When asked about the rigors of college swimming, Cortez pointed out that “The training is much more intense in college than high school. Before we spent all of our time in the pool. Now we spend just as much time in the weight room.”

She is also enjoying every minute in Baltimore. Not that she has much spare time to spend as practice and studies tend to take up most of the hours in her day. As for those studies, Cortez is majoring in Molecular & Cellular Biology, which is on a pre-med track.

After our interview, she took a few minutes for a Q&A session

1)  How did you initially become interested in swimming, and what age did you realize that you were better than normal?

I did swimming lessons before I started swim team, and the instructor noticed that I had a naturally ability for being in the water and picking up the stroke technique. She urged me to join the swim team, and my swimming career took off from there.  I never really looked at myself to be better than normal.  I always focused on what big meets I could qualify for next and what steps I needed to take to achieve my goals

2) What do you miss most about the Outer Banks?

I really miss going to the beach.  I used to go to the beach almost every day after school and unwind whenever weather permitted

3) What do you miss most about living with your parents? Laundry service, food, etc.?

My mom is an amazing cook.  I definitely miss her home cooking the most.  I used to send her recipes that I found from YouTube videos, she would always make the meals, and they would always be so delicious

4) What is the biggest difference in the competition between the high school and college swimming?

Aside from the obvious answer of better competition, everything is a lot more team oriented. This is not the case on every college team, but at Hopkins, when we are at swim meets everybody is on their feet cheering for each other. This makes the meet more fun, gives every race a sense of purpose, and motivates me to race harder to help the team as much as I can.

5) What is the biggest difference between life as a high school kid and life as a

college kid?

I spend a lot less time in class, but a lot more time studying.  In a week, I spend 19 hours in class, 20 swimming, and the rest is for studying

6) What do you enjoy the most about living in a big city?

I really enjoy having everything that I need minutes away from me. 

7) Do you have any rituals prior to a meet?

Before and after every race I drink Glacier Cherry Gatorade.


Tom Hoggard is sports director/media consultant at East Carolina Radio. He hosts the Outer Banks Sports Report on 98.1 The Score Monday through Friday from 7 to 9 a.m.


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