“Life can be difficult sometimes. It gets bumpy, what with family and kids and things not going exactly like you planned. But that’s what makes it interesting. In life, the first act is always exciting. The second act … that is where the depth comes in.”
— Gloria (Joyce Van Patten) in “Grown Ups”
Somewhere in the midst of a film that features a script full of juvenile one-liners and an all-star cast of comedians, Joyce Van Patten brings maturity, just for a few seconds. Cagla Brennan and her dad, Charles, know practically every line.
“I’ve watched it 30 times. It’s never moved from our DVD player,” the ‘Iolani senior said. “’Grown Ups’ is funny and it makes me feel like it’s summertime even when it’s finals week.”
On paper, Brennan fits the profile of the typical ‘Iolani scholar-athlete: nearly 6 feet tall, 3.6 grade-point average, college qualified and, without a doubt, one of the best swimmers in Hawaii.
Three years ago, she was a spunky freshman with great potential, watching seniors like Aja Grande (now swimming at Brown) lead the way. By her junior season, Brennan emerged as the state champion in the girls 500-meter event.
“I started swimming on the ‘Iolani club team when I was 6. It’s the best decision my parents ever made when trying to find me an after-school activity,” Brennan said. “Aja was my role model. She was always mature at practice, never rowdy. I was the youngest of the group and really rambunctious. Hanging around her helped me grow up. I learned how to act at practice and at swim meets.”
Not only has she grown physically since ninth grade, Brennan has been a stickler for consistency. That means a daily schedule that would grind most high schoolers into dust, rising at 4:30 a.m. During those nooks and crannies through the day — after morning practice, during homeroom, lunch period, free period — Brennan squeezes in the work necessary to finish her school assignments. She can’t afford to stay up, as many students do, until 11 p.m. or midnight.
“I actually don’t have a pile of books to carry. I use nuggets of time to do work,” she said. “I’m not a late-night person, and I don’t want to get too tired because that would mess up everything.”
Everything, as in the dream. Brennan won both the 500 (5 minutes, 6.15 seconds) and 200 (1:54.11) freestyle during the Kalani Invitational on Friday.
“In the 500, we build it up through the season, so I don’t go all out. For the 200, I just go as fast as I can. It’s a sprint and I’m a distance swimmer,” she said.
The season is very young, which made the Kalani meet a good barometer.
“To most people, it’s not a super big meet, but for me, it’s a way to gauge, it’s OIA and ILH. We’re all in winter training, so we’re all fatigued. It’s nice to see if we can make certain times,” she said.
In the state’s age-group (club) championships last month, Brennan broke 1:52 with a time of 1:51.9 in the 500 free.
Nuggets are not just her measurements of time management. Her favorite food at home are Dino — as in dinosaur — Buddies chicken nuggets when her dad isn’t cooking dinner. He also chimes in from time to time.
“He says, ‘Use your nuggets!’ Which basically means, if you have some free time, you shouldn’t just be sitting around watching Netflix. It’s pretty annoying sometimes, but without using those ‘nuggets,’ I would not be where I am today,” she said.
Her mother, Naile, is the rap to her father’s rock.
“The mom on ‘The Goldbergs’ (Beverly) reminds me of my mom,” Brennan says. “She would do anything for her child. My dad likes rock and roll, so one of my pump-up songs is ‘Surrender’ by Cheap Trick. I can’t really get pumped up to a rap song. It’s too intense. I perform better under less pressure and more fun circumstances.”
Brennan hasn’t locked into a college yet, but is leaning toward a military academy. Seeing the world is her only bucket-list wish.
“Fiji is probably the best trip I’ve ever been on,” she said of the Oceania championships last year. “I met some of my best friends on that trip and it was so culturally enriching since we were staying in a hotel with teams from Australia, New Zealand, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands and so many more. I thought I left Fiji with an accent.”
Her first name is actually written as Çagla, pronounced CHAH-la. The translation from Turkish is “babbling brook.” Brennan, from her dad, is Irish and translates to “brave.”
This swimming thing is a real dealmaker. Eventually, she could end up competing in places like Ireland and Turkey, and beyond.
“My grandmother on my mom’s side is from China. She moved to Turkey. We’re Tatar, which is Muslim and Mongolian. She met my grandfather and they moved to New York, and I think they came through Ellis Island. I’ve heard little tidbits all the time, but I was never really clear on that,” Brennan said. “My grandfather is a Russian Jew, and they were running from Nazi rule.”
While her maternal grandfather settled the family in American and joined the Coast Guard, Brennan’s paternal grandfather was in the Naval Academy. Her roots are basically in and of the water. Two generations later, Brennan’s families are two oceans and a continent away from their origins, and she continues to surprise.
“I would love to travel around the world for swimming,” she said. “I’ve already kind of got there by going to Fiji, but if I could go any farther, it would be amazing!”
CAGLA BRENNAN’S DAY PLANNER
4:20 a.m. The first alarm goes off.
4:30 a.m. Second alarm.
4:35 a.m. Grab breakfast. “We have the breakfast sandwiches that you heat up.”
4:55 a.m. In the car. “Mostly I drive myself now (from Kunia). It used to be my mom.
5:50 a.m. Morning practice at ‘Iolani (club team).
7:45 a.m. Homeroom. “My friends are like, ‘I’m so tired.’ Oh, you’re so tired…”
3 p.m. School pau.
3:30 p.m. Afternoon practice (school team).
8:30 p.m. Bed time.
Athlete: Katie Ledecky.
Team: Golden State Warriors.
Food (at home): Dino Buddies chicken nuggets
Food (eating out): Spinach and garlic pizza from Boston’s North End Pizza with extra cheese on top.
Hobby outside of sports: Futsal
Movie: Grown Ups
TV show: The Goldbergs
Music artist: Eminem or Taylor Swift.
Teacher (elementary through high school): Multiple
“I’ve had so many, it’s hard to choose, but my all-time favorites would be Mr. Michael Among, Mr. Alan Suemori, Mr. Matthew Gabe, and Mr. Ryan Sasaki because they all care about the student and will do anything to help their student. They were all always supportive and know exactly how to teach students in the way that helps the students grow.”
Class: Finding Poetry
Place to relax: my room
Motto/scripture: “Discipline yourself, and others won’t need to.” — John Wooden.
What your mom (Naile Brennan) says that you can’t forget: “That’s cray cray!”
What your dad (Charles) says that you can’t forget: “Use your nuggets!”
“Which basically means if you have free time you shouldn’t just be sitting around watching Netflix! It’s pretty annoying sometimes, but without using his nuggets I would not be where I am today!”
What your coaches say that you can’t forget:
“One time my coach Ivan Batzanov said that I have a big heart. It meant a lot to me to know that he sees that I do everything I can in and out of the pool to succeed and make him, my family, and my friends proud.”
What do you remember about being a freshman on the varsity swim team?
“Aja (Grande) was my role model. She was always very mature at practice, never rowdy. I was the youngest of the group and really rambunctious. Hanging around her helped me grow up. I learned a lot about how to act at practice and at swim meets.”
Where have you traveled for swimming?
“I’ve been to California, Washington, and Fiji — probably the best trip I’ve ever been on, I met some of my best friends on that trip, and it was so culturally enriching, since we were staying in a hotel with teams from Australia, New Zealand, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands, and so many more. I thought I left Fiji with an accent! Haha.”
What do you like to do — or what’s something else you’re good at — that would surprise most people?
“I’m pretty good at math, I think it’s all the laps in the pool and counting yardage that led to that! I think that’ll surprise some people because most people just think of me as a swimmer not always as a math nerd (which I am, I love numbers!) I actually got an MVP award from my Pre-Calculus teacher (Mr. Sasaki)! Haha.”
What is your ultimate dream/bucket list?
“My ultimate bucket list is to travel around the world for swimming in any way possible. I’ve already kind of got there by going to Fiji, but if I could go any farther it would be amazing!”
What is the history and background of your name?
“My first name, Cagla, is Turkish and means babbling brook or dried up pit of an apricot — which translates to almond” (funny I know). It’s pronounced Chah-la, so no one should worry if they get it wrong because it happens pretty much everyday. When I go to Starbucks, I just say my name is Ann because it’s easier! My last name, Brennan, is Irish and it means brave, which I hope to be as much as possible unless it comes to heights and scary hikes (like Koko Head).”
Is the Turkish side from your mom?
“My grandmother is from China. She moved to Turkey. We’re Tatar, Muslim-Mongolian. She met my grandfather and then they moved to New York, came through Ellis Island. Somehow they met, I was never really clear on that. I’ve heard little tidbits all the time. I think my grandfather (Russian Jew) was running from Nazi rule. He joined the Coast Guard. My mom was born in New York City, then they moved to Hilo, and then Oahu when she was 4.
“My dad’s side is full Irish. They met when my grandfather was in the Naval Academy or getting his master’s at Saint Louis University. My dad is the first of six children. He was on a work trip for Wang Computers, in Hawaii fixing computers. He fixed my grandma’s computer. She told him, you should meet my daughter. He was actually staying at the hotel where my mom was working at. They wanted to go out, but he didn’t know she was the daughter of my grandmother.
What is your plan for college?
“I’m thinking one of the military academies, not too sure yet.”
The life of getting up by 5 in the morning.
“I’m basically doing that already.”