The article below originally appeared in the Foster City Patch and is being reprinted with permission.
Andrea Chan and Najelah Najdawi have got the “Thelma and Louise” ending down.
At the start of each meet, and before most practices, the College of San Mateo swimming standouts stand near the edge of the pool, hold hands, and …
You get the idea.
“It’s one our little superstitions,” Chan said.
Fortunately for CSM, their routine ends better than the iconic Susan Sarandon film.
Chan and Najdawi, both sophomores, have emerged as CSM swimming trailblazers.
A year after becoming the program’s first swimmers to qualify for the state meet, they’re leading a small parade of Bulldogs headed to East Los Angeles College (Monterey Park) for the three-day state meet that starts on Thursday.
Chan and Najdawi each received All-American honors in three events last year. Chan, who graduated from Mills High, was also an academic All-American.
“It’s pretty cool for me and (Andrea) to be the first,” said Najdawi, an El Camino alum. “That’s just how I am. I like winning and I like to be the first, and just to have that title is pretty cool.”
Both qualified for the state meet in three events after leading the Bulldogs to their first Coast Conference title last week.
Chan, a distance swimmer, qualified for the state meet in the 200-yard individual medley, the 100 butterfly and the 500 freestyle.
Najdawi, a sprinter, will compete in the 50 freestyle, the 50 breaststroke and the 100 breaststroke.
Bulldogs coach Randy Wright described both as transformative athletes in a program he started in 2002.
“Put it this way, CSM is in the process of establishing a Hall of Fame, and in the nine years since I’ve been here, those two would be the first to go into the Hall of Fame for aquatics,” Wright said.
Najdawi, who signed a water polo scholarship with San Jose State earlier this year, is the school’s only poloist to receive All-American honors.
“Pretty darn good coming from a high school that didn’t even offer water polo,” Wright said.
Najdawi and Chan have known each other since they started competing on the club circuit when they were in middle school. They became friends when they were on the same Burlingame aquatics team for a year during high school, but lost touch until they arrived at CSM as freshmen in 2009.
They’re now best friends.
“We just push each other a lot,” Chan said. “We compete with each other. We’ll always go like, ‘I’m better than you,’ but it’s like a friendly competition.”
Although they compete in different events, Chan and Najdawi did compete against each other in a pentathlon last fall at Ohlone College. Chan placed first, and Najdawi second.
Najdawi is the reluctant state qualifier, who despite her success in the sport, readily admits she’s a poloist first, and competitive swimmer second. She prefers the game action to the monotony of swimming laps, and has given up competitive swimming at various points of her career.
Before her freshman year, she cut a deal with Wright, who insisted she had to swim to play water polo, promising to mix up the swimming routine to make it more fun.
The deal paid off for both parties.
“I just needed some variation and that’s what Randy has provided because he knows how boring (training) can be,” Najdawi said.
Chan, who never lost a conference race, is seeded third in the 100 butterfly and fourth in the 500 freestyle and 200 IM at state. She wants to compete at a four-year school, and has been recruited by Division II U.C. San Diego, NAIA Concordia, and several Division III schools, among others.
Najdawi is seeded seventh in the 50 freestyle, 11th in the 50 breaststroke and 12th in the 100 breaststroke.
Wright thinks CSM’s best chance for a state title might be Chan in the 500 freestyle, a race she hasn’t been pushed in. Chan clocked a 5:15.13 in a conference championship race she won by a whopping 50 yards.
“She didn’t just win, she destroyed the competition,” Wright. “She’s not a show-boater, but you watch her and you could tell that girl was the best out there by far.”
Joining Chan and Najdawi at the state meet are freshman Shelbi Oskolkoff-Campbell (El Camino) and Sophia Hommes (Menlo-Atherton).
Oskolkoff-Campbell qualified in the 100 and 50 butterfly, and the 200 individual medley.
Hommes joins Chan, Najdawi and Oskolkoff-Campbell on the four state-bound relay teams (200 and 400 freestyle and medley teams).
For Chan and Najdawi, the days leading up to the state meet are bittersweet.
They are on one hand celebrating a friendship that helped both athletes reach new heights. Their friendship won’t end with a meet, but it will be different not having a best friend to jump into the pool with as they travel different paths.
“I don’t know how it’s going to end up or anything like that, but for me, I’m very sad,” Chan said. “She’s one of my best friends and she’s taught me a lot of things I needed to know about swimming and life and water polo, and just having her by my side for two years is just one of the pluses that I have and one of the privileges of coming here to CSM.”