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Swimmer Lileikis has all the tools

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    SPT OLYMPIC - 30 JUNE 2015 - Aukai Lileikis has qualified for the Olympic swim trials He is the first Aulea Swim Club swimmer to make the trials since 1980. Aulea is also celebrating its 60th anniversary. Leleikis is pictured warming up with the backstroke at the Kailua District Park pool. Honolulu Star-Advertiser photo by Cindy Ellen Russell

Sometimes that DNA double helix straightens out to become black lines on the bottom of a swimming pool. That has been the watery path for ‘Aukai Lileikis, one that is a combination of dreams, destiny and desire.

The list of Olympic trials qualifying times has been posted on his bedroom wall ever since USA Swimming announced the standards last September. That visualization tool might not work for every 17-year-old but, as the Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center crowd witnessed during last month’s senior long-course championships, Lileikis is not your average teen.

The incoming senior at Punahou School more than added to Aulea Swim Club’s 60th anniversary celebration when he became the first from the Kailua-based club to qualify for the Olympic trials since 1988. Freestyler Diane Williams, who still holds three state long-course records from 1985, did so twice, qualifying for the Los Angeles Games of 1984 and in Seoul four years later.

Lileikis joined the national elite with his performance in the 200 free preliminary, touching the wall in 1 minute, 51.84 seconds, .05 seconds under the standard. Not only did it punch his ticket to next June’s trials in Omaha, Neb., it also gave him the Hawaiian record, breaking Noa Sakamoto’s mark of 1:52.39 set in 2003.

"It was super awesome," said Lileikis, who finished nearly nine seconds ahead of his closest competitor. "I looked up at the clock and knew.

"Going to the Olympics has been a personal dream since I was little. I grew up watching the great swimmers like (American) Michael Phelps and (China’s) Sun Yang. … The trials are a year away but that is motivation to continue with my goal-setting, which is to keep trying to be the best swimmer and the best person I can be. It’s about training harder, mentally preparing and try to go as low as possible. There are lessons learned in the pool every day."

Perhaps the biggest lesson was that it was the right sport for him and his still-growing 6-foot-3 body. Was there ever any other choice of sport but swimming?

Perhaps not.

Not with a first name that can be translated as "of the sea."

Not with a last name of Lileikis, which can translate as decades of swimming success, courtesy of father, Tom, and uncle Joe, both outstanding swimmers at Hawaii and now swim coaches. Then add in the Aki side of the family, with mom Linda’s legacy established as a backstroker for state champion Punahou and then at New Mexico.

Ultimately, ‘Aukai Lileikis said it was his decision to follow in the strokes of his family, striving to and reaching the same goal as his father did when qualifying for the Olympic trials (200 fly in 1988).

"I enjoy swimming," said Lileikis, who won two individual and one relay gold at February’s high school state meet. "It can be very individual. There’s a lot of black lines and turns. But you get out what you put in.

"And I like the team part of it, having everyone on the deck cheering. That’s motivation from my coaches and my teammates."

It might have been Father’s Day weekend when Lileikis qualified for the trials but it was definitely mother’s day as well. Linda Lileikis — as she does for many swim meets — was the P.A. announcer that day.

"She did what she did for every race, announced what the (Olympic) qualifying time was before the race," Tom Lileikis said. "She couldn’t get too excited, was very professional about it, but you knew from her (updates at the turns) that (‘Aukai) was on track.

"It’s really cool as parents and former swimmers to see your kids realizing goals because you know what it takes to get there. The trials is something he’s been shooting for ever since he realized that he could be at that caliber. He’s done something heading into his senior year in high school that I couldn’t didn’t do until my senior year in college."

The 200 free might not be the only event for which Lileikis qualifies. He is fractions of seconds away from the standards in the 50 and 100 free and, as a swimmer, "he really has no weaknesses," said Aulea head coach Joe Glenn, who moved over the Pali last May after 10 years with Punahou Aquatics . "He’s that rare swimmer, good across all disciplines. We’re going to junior nationals this summer and I expect him to be top five at several distances.

"Even when he was a sophomore, you saw glimpses of this potential and I felt he was (Olympic caliber) from the first time I saw him swim. He ranks 68th nationally (in the 200 free) and so he has another year to improve. Physically, he has all the tools. He’s just very well-rounded and very strong mentally. The biggest thing is that he just likes to race."

While making it to the Rio Games next summer could be a stretch, Tokyo in 2020 is very realistic. By then, Lileikis will be nearly done with college, that choice still undecided.

"I’ve talked with some schools but I’m keeping my options open," he said.

As impressive as Lileikis has been in meets, Glenn said it’s the work ethic and dedication that is even more so. Lileikis was awarded "most inspirational" at the last club banquet, an award voted on by his teammates.

"He’s just a regular person, very humble, doesn’t think he’s above anyone," Glenn said. "You always see him talking to the younger swimmers, encouraging them, congratulating them.

"When he got the qualifying time, obviously it was very exciting for Aulea. But it was exciting for Hawaii swimming. Everyone at the meet was cheering for him and that was cool to see."

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