Isaiah Aleksenko won gold in the 2023 Pacific Games after dominating the 200m butterfly event at the Aquatics Center last Wednesday night in Honiara, Solomon Islands.
But behind the incredible 2:05.86 first-place swim in the event, which incidentally also broke CNMI Sports Hall of Famer and Pan American Games USA swimmer Jonathan Sakovich, are hours and hour of practice in the hotel pools and even in the open water on Saipan.
"I'm so happy and grateful for this opportunity and I'm so honored to represent Saipan.
"We practice in a 20-yard pool (or shorter) and I swam a 200m butterfly so that was unexpected because our pool is very short," the 17-year-old Marianas High School student said.
Aleksenko said the gold in the 200m butterfly was also kind of redemption after he settled for third place and bronze in the 100m butterfly the day prior.
"Wasn't too bummed but I was so close to getting gold [on that one too]," he said.
CNMI national swimming coach Hiroyuki Kimura applauded his ward's performance in the 200m butterfly and for giving the islands its second gold medal of the Games after Ray Santos' golden effort in the snatch of the 55kg weighlifting division.
"No pool, big problem, but he never gave up.
"Our 50m swimming pool has been closed since 2018...Since then, CNMI swimmers have trained at the small private pool or hotel pool," he said.
The evening before his inspiring 200m butterfly performance, Aleksenko spearheaded the men's 4x200m freestyle relay team to a bronze-medal finish.
His teammates were Jun Tenorio, Kean Pajarillaga, and Taiyo Akimura.
Incidentally their time of 8:35.74 also obliterated the CNMI national record set in 2009.
Kimura said along with Aleksenko, Tenorio, Pajarillaga, and Akimura, he's equally proud of all CNMI swimmers as they're competing in the international stage without the benefit of a 50m pool back home.
"It takes an immeasurable amount of effort to compete on equal terms in such competition in an environment without a swimming pool.
"I really hope everyone knows that. How can I strengthen my swimmers in this practice environment? There hasn't been a day since 2018 that I haven't thought about it," he said.
Northern Mariana Islands Swimming Federation vice president John Hirsh said the umbrella organisation of all swimming clubs in the CNMI is mighty proud of Aleksenko and his teammates' latest achievements.
"We are super proud of all our NMI Swimmers.
"The competition at the Pacific Games is tough with so many outstanding swimmers throughout Oceania vying for medals.
"Our swimmers, despite not having a 50m pool in Saipan, have shown tremendous focus and determination.
"Countless hours of practice in the ocean and hotel pools have enabled our swimmers to win medals at the games. All their hard work has paid off with several new NMI national and age group records, and personal best times," he said.
Aleksenko's performance is in stark contrast to how he started in swimming.
At age of 3, he was too young and too precocious that he was let go of another swim club.
He also had a tendency to do unpredictable things during practice. A fact that Kimura now looks back with a smile.
"Actually, he was kicked out of another club and came to my club when he was 4 years old.
"The reason was that he was too unruly and was hard to handle. Even after coming to our club, it was very difficult to handle him, but me and Yuko (Tsunami Swimming Center Saipan manager) could see through him and found him to be a very sweet and honest child," Kimura said.