She’s been flashing that infectious smile for months, and King Kekaulike High School swimmer Aniston Eyre now has even more reason to grin.
Her triple gold-medal performance last weekend against the best prep swimmers the 50th state has to offer had longtime Maui Interscholastic League officials and coaches remarking they couldn’t recall a better showing by a local female swimmer.
Eyre delivered her impressive display Feb. 15 at the season-ending Mark Takai Swimming & Diving Hawaii State Championships at Kihei Aquatics Center, where the senior freestyler propelled Na Ali‘i to a second-place finish in the girls division behind perennial powerhouse Punahou. In addition to her three gold medals in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle races and 200-yard freestyle relay, Eyre claimed a bronze in the 200-yard medley relay.
Hers was the best individual performance by an MIL swimmer since the Baldwin High boys won the state championship in 2000 with eventual NCAA All-Americans Cheyne Bloch and Caleb Rowe, who each won two individual gold medals and two relay golds.
King Kekaulike counselor Jackie Zambrano said she saw something special in Eyre the moment they met in her sophomore year. Eyre asked Zambrano to be the adviser for the College Club she wanted to start, and the two have shared a special bond since.
“The way she swims is the way she lives,” said Zambrano of the club’s first and only president. “She has fierce ambition, but it is channeled into focus and action.”
Eyre, 18, is the oldest of Aja and Jonah Eyre’s five children — all members of the Maui Dolphins Swim Club coached by Malcolm Cooper, who doubles as head coach for Na Ali‘i.
“I think when she was a freshman she thought to herself, before she leaves she would like to see King Kekaulike win, and she’s worked hard at it,” Cooper said. “Not just as a swimmer, but as a leader and getting all of her teammates to come together. … That’s her nature; she’s a hard worker.
“You don’t get accepted into Columbia (University) without working hard.”
NEW YORK DREAMIN’
Eyre, a habitual goal-setter, notes all things significant to her life in a planner. To her credit, she recently checked every box, including getting into her “dream school” in New York.
Her athletic prowess matches her academic achievements. She is carrying a 4.29 grade-point-average while taking courses in English literature, psychology, biology, Spanish literature and Advanced Placement statistics. She recently signed a letter of intent to swim at Columbia after she enrolls in the fall.
“To find out that they really wanted me on their team was a dream come true, and I totally forgot about the other schools on my list after that,” Eyre said.
The Ivy League college wasn’t her first choice, Eyre said, but the moment she stepped on campus during a spring-break trip to New York last year, Columbia went from last to first among more than a dozen schools on her list.
“That was completely mind-blowing. My dreams are coming true, and I could see it right there. It’s been a really great few months, and I’ve only had to apply to one school,” she said.
In September, after already committing to Columbia, Eyre went on an official visit to meet the team, coaches and teachers. “Every day, I get more and more excited about being part of the team,” she said. “I feel like I can go faster and I can bring good positive energy to the team.”
THIS GIRL IS ON FIRE
While looking ahead to a college career, Eyre still savors her recent triumphs at the state swimming championships.
After anchoring Na Ali‘i to a third-place finish in the medley relay, she focused on her freestyle specialties. In the 50-yard sprint, Eyre turned back Rose Garcia of La Pietra to reclaim the title she won as a sophomore in 2018. The Maui swimmer was timed in 23.72 seconds compared with Garcia’s 23.95.
In the 100-yard freestyle race, Eyre defeated Garcia again, this time with a new personal best of 51.56.
Lip-syncing their rallying song, “Girl on Fire,” by Alicia Keys, before the start of the 200-yard freestyle relay, Eyre recalls getting pumped up with teammates Afton Page, Li’a Vanderpoel and Cecilia Buckingham.
“That was just really awesome and a great way for us to finish the day — and for me to end my high school career,” Eyre said.
The Na Ali‘i relay team was trailing Kamehameha Kapalama by an estimated 5 yards when Eyre dived into the pool for her anchor leg. The senior captain kept her laser focus and poise, putting everything into the final few yards of the race. She touched the wall at 1 minute, 39.18 seconds, just ahead of the Warriors at 1:39.70.
Eyre’s split for the final 50 yards was a blistering 23.32, nearly 2 seconds better than the Kamehameha anchor.
The result so excited Eyre that she immediately jumped out of the pool to hug her teammates.
“She had a really good split on that, and she was full-on for that last 50. She wanted it,” Cooper said.
Although Eyre certainly would be justified in celebrating her individual achievements, she said her focus was on the entire King Kekaulike squad “and using the momentum the girls team got from winning the MIL championship, breaking Baldwin’s win streak and finishing in a tie with Seabury.”
“Just knowing that I had an awesome team behind me, and no matter what happens it was going to be a great meet and we would make history in the relay. Knowing that we were up there and we had a chance to win. I think that was what really drove my excitement. Even though I wasn’t really focusing on my personal goals, I think it really drove me to achieve those personal goals.”
And there’s that smile again.