Isabella Siering hung in the starting position for the 100 meter backstroke event at the Northern German Championship in Hanover, Germany.
The 10-year-old was tired. She and her dad, Frank, had jumped on a plane and flown to Hanover when they realized she was eligible to compete in the championship, but she was suffering from jet lag and exhaustion from the four other events she had already swum that day. Moments before the backstroke event started, she had been asleep in her father’s arms.
“Just one more, Bella,” Siering had urged her. The German side of her family were all there cheering her on, including her newborn cousin.
But now, in the water, little Bella was all business. German competitions were different than American ones in that the start buzzer rang a bit sooner, which had thrown her in the first race of the day. This one would be different. The buzzer sounded and Bella pushed off the wall and went on to swim her best time ever.
When she’s not jumping on planes for impromptu competitions, Bella is a swimmer for Team Santa Monica, a program that takes on every age group and skill level to promote goals of fitness and fun. The competitive 9 to 13 age group that Bella swims with meets five days a week to drill fundamentals and get up for big meets.
And Bella loves swim meets.
“I like how you wake up early in the morning and you swim your races and you have fun and you swim as fast as you can,” she said from deep within a fluffy yellow towel she had pulled out of a backpack bigger than she is.
Hardly common words for a 10 year old, but Bella isn’t your average fourth grader. Her father is a German entrepreneur and triathlete, and she inherited his competitive drive along with a German passport. She has already qualified for the Junior Olympics and is poised to go far in the competitive swimming world.
“Bella is amazingly talented and has always made a lot of improvements since being on [Team Santa Monica],” said her coach, Alex Tungland. Tungland has been with TSM for the past four years and has watched Bella develop as a swimmer since she first joined the 9 to 13 competitive age group that Tungland coaches.
“Her progress has been amazing and her drive and dedication are equally amazing. As long as she holds onto that she will go far in this sport,” Tungland said.
What most people don’t realize about swimming is how much of a mental game it is on top of the physical challenge of getting through the race. This aspect of focus and self-awareness is hard to teach to young kids, but the discipline taught now has far reaching effects later in life, Tungland said.
“Oh my gosh. For most people it is more mental than it is physical,” Tungland said. “That’s going to be part of the challenge for Bella but she is definitely taking it in stride now.”
When Bella gets in the water, she has just one thing on her mind: what she’s swimming and how she can do it better.
“I’m thinking about all the drills. And when I’m not tired I’m thinking about what I should be working on and what I should be fixing,” Bella said.
Like a lot of athletes, Bella has a pre-competition ritual that gets her head in the game and excited for the next day’s meet. It’s just a bit more delicious than most.
“Always on Fridays before a meet I go to Islands and I always have a virgin margarita and chicken nuggets. It’s really fun. That’s where I’m going tonight!,” Bella said, smiling.
Competitive swimming takes up much of Bella’s time, but when she’s not in the pool it’s hard to get her away from water. Living in Santa Monica means you’re right by the beach and Bella takes full advantage of that to go surfing.
“Sometimes I don’t like when I get knocked down, but I like it when I get smooth waves and I make it to shore,” Bella said.
For great athletes, there’s no downtime. There is always someone you want to beat and someone who beats you. But for Bella, that’s still on the horizon. Tonight, she’s going to Islands. Make sure there’s a virgin strawberry margarita waiting.