Ciera Kelly, a pre-dentistry student and swimmer at Washington State University, has thrived in her three years in Pullman, Washington. The 2015 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate has twice been named to the Pac-12 Conference Swimming & Diving All-Academic First Team.
This spring, Kelly was also named as an Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar, an award that recognizes students of color who have excelled both academically and athletically.
As a freshman and sophomore, Kelly earned a spot on the Cougars’ top 400-yard freestyle relay team. As a junior, Kelly recorded a career-best time in the 200 freestyle.
The Empire sat down with Kelly at the Dimond Park Aquatics Center on Friday to talk about her experience swimming and studying in college. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Juneau Empire: I was reading an old article from when you signed (to WSU). You said, “I’m a little scared for the college practices,” what those will entail. Can you just speak on how that experience has been and settling in as a swimmer?
Ciera Kelly: Honestly coming from Glacier Swim Club, it hasn’t been that hard to just adjust to the swimming, to the swim practice. Just because swimming here with (GSC coach) Scott (Griffith) is unreal. We swam so many yards; practices were always grueling. I think the biggest thing that was hard for me was there was so many other factors (besides swimming) than I realized. Swimming would take up like five hours a day, just for practices. But then you would have to have 30 minutes before to get ready for practice, 30 minutes after to just have team time. And then every single day we would have dinner all together in the football building. So realistically, we’re looking at seven hours total of just thinking and doing swim stuff.
Empire: What’s been your secret to have this great academic record?
Kelly: I just feel like all the girls on my swim team, we all want to do really well outside of the pool and inside of the pool. And our coach just kind of pushes us to be the best we can be all the time. I feel like being in swimming we’re always trying to get the best times and outside of it, we’re just trying to be the best we can in the classroom, too. So my big secret? … Honestly, it’s studying. If I’m not in the pool, I’m hitting the books hard. I’m pretty much studying wherever — like even going to class I’m studying.
Empire: What have been some of the proud accomplishments you’ve attained while being there?
Kelly: Being on a few of the ‘A’ relays was a big thing for me. There’s always A, B and C relays. … Coming in I was like, “Oh I’m just a girl from Juneau, all these girls are from California and they’re all so fast.” I never really thought I had a chance to step it up with all these other ladies on my team.
Empire: What race have you found to be the most competitive in college?
Kelly: I’d say either the 100 freestyle or 100 butterfly.
Kelly: At Pac-12 (championships), it’s really, really hard to make finals. Especially because we’re racing against the top Olympians in the world, Katie Ledecky, Simone (Manuel) at Stanford — oh my goodness, it’s honestly amazing to watch them — so making finals is even a huge accomplishment but that’s what I’m trying to do my senior since I have not (done it yet). I’ve missed it by one (spot) like every single year in those events.