Akiko Thomson-Guevara Shares Her Story to Becoming an Olympian Champion Swimmer

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How do you become an Olympian champion swimmer? For Gillian Akiko Thompsons-Guevera, a seasoned Olympic swimmer who won several gold medals for the Philippines, it’s as simple as dreaming of swimming and winning at the same time, knowing in your gut level that you’d be good, and deciding to become a Champion someday.

Looking back, swimming wasn’t even love at first sight for this retired swimmer turned television host and commissioner of the Philippine Sports Commission. Swimming was just one of the many activities she and her siblings did.

“I was competitive and took to the water. It wasn’t love at first sight, but it was fun. My passion grew through the years,” recalls Akiko

Filipino at heart

Known to many, Akiko is a naturalized Filipino, born to an American father, Marshall Thomson, and a Japanese mother from Hiroshima, Hiroko Nakamura.

Akiko has two older siblings, Julia and Joshua. She and her family moved to Manila when she was still young so she spent most of her life in the Philippines.

As to being more Filipino, American, or Japanese, Akiko says, “There’s no denying the Filipino in me culturally. I am generally very punctual and can be pretty straight forward which I suppose can be considered very American. While I really admire and understand the Japanese culture, I’m probably least Japanese, unfortunately,” she describes herself.

She has once thought of living either in the US or Japan (her parents’ hometown) at different stages of her life, but she realized, “This is where the Lord has led me. I am the only Filipino in my family, so I always knew God had a special call and reason for me to be here.”

Akiko graduated with a degree in Anthropology at the University of California Berkeley; but she completed her masters in Business Administration at the Ateneo de Manila University.

Intense training

Akiko began swimming at the age of six and started representing the Philippines in several local and international swimming competitions after becoming a naturalized Filipino citizen through an Act of Congress by the age 12.

While her parents were both very supportive of her, Akiko’s dad was more of a strict disciplinarian that whatever she started, she had to stick with.

“He drove me to the pool at 5 a.m. when I couldn’t drive myself yet. My mother was supportive in a different sense, she made sure we ate and slept well. She would wake up at night to check on us. She came with me to all my competitions as my family only could make the big ones (Olympics),” she reveals.

During her peak, Akiko would train every day, twice every other day, resting only on Sundays. They were in the water for a good two and half hours per session and did a lot of dry land exercises as well.

“It was intense! Diet wise, we swimmers eat a lot, but at my peak, when I had to really lose weight, I was counting calories! Fortunately for me I grew up in a very healthy household, so our diet was very balanced, we ate a lot of veggies and very minimal fried stuff,” she shares.

Alongside with swimming, Akiko still has to go to school, which was non-negotiable. Fortunately, her school was very accommodating and helped her cope whenever she had to travel and compete.

“I was a very normal athletic girl, and had great friendships all through grade/high school. I suppose if you were to ask my classmates then, they would say I always came to school with wet hair, smelling like chlorine!” she recalls laughing.

Of course, no one wins every day and Akiko has to cope with losing as well. It was hard, she would cry sometimes.

“You cry, but you realize too why you’re swimming and who you’re swimming for, and somehow, with the help of your coach, family, and sometimes your team mates, you learn to pick yourself up, and keep going. It’s part and parcel of the journey.”

Akiko admits that she has physical insecurities too. She just ignores them by staying focused on the goal. “My coach used to call my thighs, ‘the Purefoods thighs!’, but by the grace of God, with age and maturity, you learn to love what you’ve been given and even thank God for it!”

Life after swimming

Right now, Akiko is happily married to Chips Guevara, whom she met through her best friend, Len. They are blessed with two boys, four-year-old Noah and three-year-old Elijah.

“I love every bit about being married as I have a great partner to share life with. Motherhood is the most wonderful and the most challenging role I’ve ever played!” says Akiko.

She spends quality times with her kids by bringing them to work, grocery, out of town, and tries to put aside all the gadgets when she’s with them, especially at night.

To keep herself fit, Akiko would swim twice to thrice a week and run on rare occasions.

She sleeps and rests when needed, eats well and moderately, drinks lots of water, wears sunscreen, and puts on a smile.

“Find an activity you enjoy and do it. It’s very important to take care of our bodies, for preventative measures. If you want your body (engine) to run well, you have to take care of it and feed it well—good fuel,” advises Akiko.

In the future, Akiko would let her kids decide if they’re going to follow her footsteps. While her kids are already confident in the water, all she wanted more for them are to be water proficient and be able to swim all four strokes.

“Becoming a champion is something they will have to decide on someday,” she says in conclusion.

Special thanks to Mr. Bienvenido Jose A. Orillo

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