It’s been a remarkable week for Camas High School swimmer Mark Kim.
On Feb. 7, Kim signed a letter of intent to attend the distinguished United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, next fall, where he will join the West Point Army men’s swimming team.
A few days later, the Camas senior dominated the competition at the 2018 district swim championships in Kelso, Washington, helping the Camas boys swim team take first place at the District 4 meet and earning the coveted “4A Swimmer of the Year” title.
This weekend, Kim will compete at the state swimming championships in Federal Way, Washington. It’s an event he knows well. Consider this remarkable feat: Kim placed first in the state 200 and 500 meter freestyle events during both his sophomore and junior years. Now, however, the statewide competition is getting tougher and for the first time the two-time reigning state champion is actually going to the state meet as an underdog, ranked second and third in his favorite events.
“I’m actually happy to see more competition and I’m really excited about the challenge this year,” Kim says.
Hard work, drive lead to West Point
Kim’s parents, Mark and Dannelle, have repeatedly told the state champion swimmer that he feared water during his infancy.
“But they say once I got into the water to take swim lessons, I never wanted to get out,” Kim says.
He’s soaking wet, having taken a short break from his intense workout at the Lacamas Swim Club to talk to The Post-Record about his recent accomplishments and upcoming state championship meet.
Kim’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea. Although Kim was born in New York, he spent his early years in Toronto, Canada. The family moved to Camas when Kim was 10 years old and he started swimming at the Lacamas Swim Club just two years later.
Kim’s coach, Mike Bemis, has watched the state champion develop every step of the way.
“I think his secret is something he probably won’t admit to you, but he’s really driven in training,” Bemis says of Kim. “You see he really likes the journey and works tremendously hard in practice.”
Kim’s hard work, leadership and success caught the eye of coaches and faculty at the prestigious West Point Military Academy. Coaches contacted the young Camas swimmer last year, and Kim flew to New York with his family in September of 2017 to tour the West Point campus — a national landmark.
“I fell in love with the place because of the students, staff and coaches, who all fight for each other’s success every single day,” Kim says of West Point. “It’s more of a family than a team, plus it’s an opportunity to serve my country.”
Kim already has a friend on the swim team at West Point. Former Lake Oswego swimmer Edward Kang is a buddy Kim competed against locally. This is Kang’s first year swimming for the Army team.
Outside the pool, Kim enjoys playing alto saxophone in the Camas High School band.
“Many of my best friends I met while playing in band and it’s a really big thing to me because it’s where I learned about ‘Camas Pride,'” Kim says.
As it turns out, the music doesn’t stop playing when Kim puts down his saxophone. He admits that the band’s music sometimes plays in his head and helps him get through all of the long hours of training he puts in each week in the pool.
Kim’s hard work is infectious, Bemis says. Camas has eight boys heading to state including Kim’s younger brother, Jaden, who is a sophomore at CHS this year.
“My brother is actually faster than me in the 100 butterfly and I’m really proud of him and all the work he has put in,” Kim says, adding that being a role model to his brother and the other, younger swimmers on the team, is not something he takes lightly. “It’s a big responsibility, because I know my actions can influence others around me, so I always remember what my parents taught me — to think before I act.”
When Kim starts at West Point next fall, he plans to study engineering, but wants to keep all of his options open. He says he’s thrilled to be able to serve his country.
“The best way to give back to people who gave to me is to know the value of service to others over yourself,” Kim says. “It drives me. It’s really important.”