Pamela Benitez lets her swimming do the talking.
As a quiet leader, the junior freestyler has anchored the women’s swimming team since her first semester as a Saluki in the spring of 2012.
Before she stepped foot on SIU’s campus, Benitez made a name for herself by representing her home country of El Salvador.
She swam in the Central American and Caribbean Games in 2006, 2009, and in 2010, where she won three bronze medals.
She took home eight bronze medals at the 2010 Central American Games, which made her the most decorated athlete out of all El Salvadorans in the event.
Benitez also competed at the World Championships in 2007 and 2009 and the Pan American Games in 2007 and 2011.
During the summer, she swam at the London Olympics and finished 33rd in the 800M freestyle.
“Making it to the Olympic games this year was more than an accomplishment,” she said. “It was a dream come true.”
Coach Rick Walker said he was introduced to Benitez by her coach in El Salvador.
“He contacted me about her and with her (swim) times, obviously, we were very interested,” Walker said. “The more we communicated back and forth through the recruiting process, the more excited I was because I felt that we were getting a quality kid. Every day, she’s proved that it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
Walker said Benitez is a well-rounded individual who represents SIU well.
“She constantly remains to be an example of what we view a Saluki as being,” he said. “She is a real fighter and you’ll never hear a peep out of her. She is a quiet leader.”
Benitez said out of all the colleges she was in contact with, SIU stood out the most.
She said it was a difficult transition to make.“At the beginning, it was hard,” she said. “It was like coming to a new world. I just remember it being so cold. As soon as I came here, though, everyone was really nice to me. Being a part of the team is my favorite part about being here.”
Since becoming a Saluki, Benitez has dominated.
She won 12 straight events after finishing fourth in her first competition during the spring 2012 season. At the Missouri Valley Conference Championships, she placed in the top three in all the events she competed in.
In the fall 2012 season, she continued her brisk progression as a Saluki swimmer.
Benitez, who typically swims mid-distance events, started off the year with wins in both the Saluki Miler and Open Water 5K.
Since then, she has won five of the 10 combined individual and relay events in which she has competed.
Benitez also had a strong showing at the USA Winter National Championships in November. She finished the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:51.06, which put her in 43rd place out of 58 swimmers.
Senior Melissa Larocque said she expects Benitez to break some school records before her time at SIU is through.
“Pamela is really valuable for us,” she said.
“There’s not one practice where she’s slacking or behind. She always swims well, and even when she’s not, she manages to work hard and get something out of it.”
Larocque said although Benitez is typically soft spoken, she can be more vocal when she is comfortable.
“She’s really quiet, but when she’s out of her shell and knows you well, she is super funny and a little dorky,” she said. “It catches you off guard.”
Senior Csaba Gercsak, who also competed at the 2012 Olympic games in London, said Benitez takes care of business.
“She’s a hard worker,” he said. “She just focuses on the stuff she needs to do in the pool and at school.”
Benitez said she will attempt to swim in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
After her college career is over, Benitez, a marketing major, said she wants to get a job and maintain her swimming career.
“I cannot stay away from the water,” she said. “I’ll do everything possible to get both my swimming and non-swimming goals balanced.”
Walker said he sees Benitez leading a productive and happy life, just as she has done so far at SIU.
“She has allowed our program to take her further than she thought she could go, and our program has allowed her to take us further than we thought we could go.”