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Benitez earns label as ‘role model’ for swimming

By Aaron Graff

Saluki senior swimmer, Pamela Benitez has enjoyed the thrill of winning throughout her career, and has even made an appearance in the 2012 London Olympics.

Benitez started swimming around the age of eight and it was only a few years after that she started competing. During her career at SIU, she has proven herself to be one of the best swimmers in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Benitez has already been named MVC Swimmer of the Week three times this season, which makes seven total in her career. She has earned that honor for the past two weeks. The first of those weeks came after the tri-meet against the University of Kentucky and the University of Missouri. Both schools were ranked in the top 25 in the nation, and Benitez won an event by two-hundredths of a second.

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“That was the first time I actually celebrated,” Benitez said. “I’m not that big into celebrating after a race.”

This past week Benitez won all three of her events against last year’s conference champions, the Missouri State Bears, which resulted in her second consecutive MVC Swimmer of the Week award.

Coach Rick Walker said earning MVC Swimmer of the Week honors gives great recognition to not only Benitez, but also the team. He said winning the award multiple times this year has helped Benitez thrive more every meet.

“We tend to be a society that just hammers people for everything that they’re not doing,” Walker said. “We fail to recognize the things they are doing right. You get more positive production out of people when you let them know they’re doing things well.”

Benitez’s teammate, senior Shailey Brumley, expressed how great of a teammate Benitez is. Brumley said Benitez pushes the team to do well because she consistently does well.

“Pam (Benitez) is such an asset to this team,” Brumley said. “Not only because she’s an excellent swimmer, you can look up all her stats, but she is an excellent teammate and she reflects all the aspects we try to hold onto as a team.”

Brumley said Benitez trains hard, and is always trying to get better.

“She trains with the boys a lot of the time.” Brumley said.

Walker said Benitez hardly ever takes a break. Two weeks ago she had three tests in a week, and told Walker she needed to miss one practice. Walker also noticed at the next practice she was working even harder because it means that much to her. He also said academics come first with the team and its overall grade point average has reflected in a positive way.

Not only has Benitez proven to be a successful college student and college athlete, she has also competed at the international level.

Benitez was only a sophomore when she qualified for the 2012 Olympics for her home country of El Salvador. She said it was different being right next to the athletes, and even though she did not expect to have much of a chance, it was a dream come true.

“I was looking before 2008 to qualify for the Olympic games,” Benitez said. “I didn’t make it, but I still had four more years to try it. I worked again to get it, and it was like a mission accomplished.”

Walker said the Olympics are the top honor for swimmers and her teammates look at her like a World Series Champion.

Benitez is a senior, but after graduation she does not know what she wants to do. Brumley said someone will have to step up, but overall anyone who has been a teammate with Benitez has benefited.

“She’s left a lot with this team as far as attitude,” Brumley said. “Just to have swam with her benefits in learning a lot from her.”

Walker said SIU has had a lot of great swimmers during his tenure. He said Benitez sticks out now as a role model to the team, but there have been plenty of swimmers just like her.

“She is a great student, she is a great teammate, she is a great swimmer, but more importantly she is a great person,” Walker said. “What’s really neat about my job, I think that I’ve seen, throughout my whole time at SIU, is we have a ton of Pamela’s walking all over our fields.”

Walker said he is extremely proud of Benitez’s accomplishments, and he is proud of the team she belongs to.

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