Senior Thea Leimone signs likely letter to swim for Columbia University


Photo credit: Rose Sarner

Thea Leimone and her family all participate in a Q&A hosted by the Athletic Leadership Council. Lemoine discussed how swimming has effected her life and what she is looking forward to during college.

By Rose Sarner, Culture Editor

Eleven years. Eleven years of waking up at 4:50 a.m. to jump in the pool before a long day of school, to missing social events with her friends. On Nov. 19, it was all worth it, according to senior Thea Leimone as she signed her likely letter to swim for Columbia University, and continue her academic career at Barnard College.

Leimone began swimming for Team Santa Monica in 2010, when she was 7 years old and joined the varsity swim team when she first came to Archer in ninth grade. She practices two times a day, one before and after school, as well as on Saturday mornings. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, Thea Leimone has strength training for an hour and on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, she swims for an hour-and-a-half before dropping her bags off at home and racing to the bus stop. In addition to Thea Leimone’s morning sessions, every evening she swims from 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

“I struggled a lot when I first began at Archer because it was really hard making new friends … while people were hanging out for the first time I was so deep into swimming,” Thea Leimone said. “I really struggled finding a balance at first but my friends understand now and I’ve really figured out how to make it work with schoolwork.”

Mohammad Khadembashi from Team Santa Monica has been coaching Leimone since she was 10 years old. He has watched her grow and show persistent dedication and said he is excited to see her succeed.

“It takes a lot of trust from who you’re working with and allowing them to guide you through. She has been an incredibly coachable athlete, which allows her to make changes and keep fighting through,” Khadembashi said. “The consistency and the commitment that she’s had and the trust that she gives to her coaches and her mentors is exemplary.”

Due to COVID-19, recruiting this past year was especially difficult. Normally, swimmers go on recruiting trips for two to three days visiting schools they are interested in to give them a better sense of what competing for each school would feel like. Additionally, swimmers would normally compete in various showcase meets where college scouts could come, watch and learn about them. However, the pandemic limited the amount of meets, so swimmers like Leimone focused more on reaching out and connecting with different college coaches.

“I made sure to reach out to a lot of swimmers on the team and get a good feel for the school, I pretty much immediately fell in love with Barnard aside from swimming,” Leimone said. “It’s pretty similar to Archer and I didn’t expect to go to an all-girls college but I loved their mission and the opportunities there.”

Barnard is the only women’s college where you can play in the NCAA Division I athletic leagues, made possible by The Columbia-Barnard Athletic Consortium. This allows Barnard students and students from Columbia’s undergraduate division to compete together in the Ivy League.

“I’m really excited about college because with club sports it’s very, very individual. It’s all about you, your times and how you’re improving. At Archer and for high school swimming, I have learned it is all a really big team effort, and that is what I am looking forward to in college,” Leimone said. “It is a really different dynamic than what I’m used to, and it’s all about supporting each other and pushing each other to do your best because you’re in it together.”

Claire Leimone, Thea’s mother, has also noticed the amount of effort and time her daughter has put into her swimming career. She explained that this moment feels like a culmination of all her hard work.

“She has worked so hard for so many hours, and there’s such a passion and love for it,” Claire Leimone said. “It’s a beautiful day to see this come together because she exemplifies so much pride and happiness.”