If you're looking for Malia Fernandez this summer, you will find her in the same place that landed her in this story: the pool. Fernandez swims competitively for a club in Tracy; at this time of year, she will be practicing twice a day, six days a week
Fernandez, 16, is The Bee's All-District Girls Swimmer of the Year. Only a sophomore at Modesto's Central Catholic High School, it's her second time to earn this distinction.
There's a good chance it won't be the last, given her performances in the 50-yard freestyle.
During a heat at the Valley Oak League championships, she shattered the league record that had stood since 2004, finishing in 24.45. At the Sac-Joaquin Section meet, the lightning-quick Fernandez came in fourth with a time of 23.46 seconds, earning her All-American consideration.
Her Section efforts earned her a berth to the CIF State Swim and Dive Championships in Clovis, where she finished 34th in a time of 24.12.
Her highlights also included coming in ninth in the 100 freestyle at the Section level, and as part of the Central Catholic team that finished 15th in both the 200- and 400-free relays.
Fernandez has been swimming for 11 years after her parents signed her up for lessons. (Said Brian, "I thought, swimming – that's not an expensive sport. You just need to buy a swimsuit." He didn't bank on swimsuits that can run in the hundreds of dollars each, and be used for only a few races.)
In swimming, Fernandez found a sport that felt like home. “I fell in love with the sport,” she said. “I like how it pushes me to achieve my goals.”
And though it's a lot of work – Brian Hernandez said his daughter is swimming five to six hours per day at this point of the year – it's also social.
“Her best friends are in swimming,” he said. “They all came up together.”
She said she also appreciates the support she's gotten from Central Catholic.
“My athletic director (Billy Hylla) has been great,” she said. “We really get a lot of support from the whole school.”
But after two years leading the VOL in the 50 free, is there any competition ahead for Hernandez' junior and senior seasons? The answer might come from pretty close to home. Actually, at home.
Her sister, Liahla, 14, will start as a freshman in the fall. Liahla is a good swimmer in her own right, particularly in the 50 free. So who's better?
“I think I'll be able to keep my spot,” Malia said. But, with a big sister's generosity, she added, “Hopefully we'll be able to send two of us to state.”
The Fernandez file
Favorite app: Snapchat
Favorite shows: A toss-up between “Riverdale” and “Friends”
Favorite music: R&B
Summer plans: Swimming
Favorite swimmer: Katie Ledecky
If I could have dinner with one person: “Michael Phelps would be pretty cool.”