College senior Latroya Pina and her two younger siblings, all of whom are dual citizens of the United States and Cape Verde, will constitute three-fourths of the African island nation's inaugural Olympic swim team at the Tokyo Games in 2020.
The eldest Pina, 22, a pre-med biology major at Howard University in Washington, D.C., told Kyodo News she is excited to swim for her mother's native country and visit Japan for the first time, though the initial outreach by a Cape Verde official via Facebook was unexpected.
"At first, we all thought it was a joke or someone just trying to scam (us)," she said. It turned out the official from Cape Verde's swimming federation, newly founded in November 2017, was a friend of her extended family who discovered Pina's mother's posts featuring race times of the three siblings.
(Latroya Pina (C) along with brother Troy and sister Jayla)[Photo courtesy of The Sun Chronicle, Attleboro, Massachusetts]
Latroya's brother Troy, 19, is also a college swimmer, competing for Saint Peter's University in New Jersey, while sister Jayla, 14, swims for their hometown high school in Seekonk, Massachusetts.
With its fourth and final member -- Catarina Ferreira, who competes in Portugal -- the Cape Verde squad made its international debut at the African Swimming Championships in Algeria in September.
"I was honestly a little nervous, being (among) the first to actually dive in and swim for my country," said Latroya, who specializes in breaststroke and individual medley events. "But it let me get out whatever nervous feelings I would have competing for a whole country and not just for myself. It was exciting."
Cape Verde, a Lusophone archipelago nation of about half a million people, participated in its first Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta and has been represented at every Summer Games since.
The West African country has fielded the majority of its Olympians thus far in Athletics, including Antonio Zeferino who ran the men's marathon in three successive Summer Games in Atlanta, Sydney and Athens. Other athletes in gymnastics and martial arts disciplines have also competed on behalf of the country still seeking its first Olympic medal.
Following December's short-course World Swimming Championships in Hangzhou, China, the Pina siblings plan to compete at the long-course worlds in Gwangju, South Korea, this summer. They will also visit Cape Verde itself for the first time to participate in open-water swimming events at the African Beach Games.
For Latroya, who graduates in May, the plan is to spend the ensuing year training for Tokyo while also studying for medical-school entrance exams. The gap year culminating in Olympic competition will likely create chances for further positive engagement as well.
"One big thing I want to do for Cape Verde is to start a swim program there for the children," Latroya said of the country whose first Olympic-size swimming pool is slated for completion in 2019.
She pointed out that many natives of Cape Verde -- including her mother, who lived in the country until age 9 -- grow up without ever learning how to swim.
"It would be great to build a population (there) with knowledge of swimming," Latroya said.
A lack of water safety education and access to swimming pools is also keenly felt in many communities in the United States. Howard University is one of the institutions in the U.S. capital helping to address the issue with annual swim clinics for local youth.
Swimming and Diving Head Coach Nic Askew explained that grassroots efforts are essential in creating more chances for young people to participate, and that athletes such as those in his program have the potential to make a major difference.
"They came in as student athletes...but now their minds also have a global concept (of) being able to give back to the community near and far," Askew said.
"The impact that Latroya is having in her own country of Cape Verde -- (it's) just absolutely amazing to hear the responses and the feedback, and people being inspired to swim."