At the tender age of just three years old, Eva and Izabella Okaro started to learn to swim thanks to their parents – they are twin sisters who joined their first swimming club aged seven. Now, aged 16, they are both prominent members of Sevenoaks Swimming Club and have recently returned from the British Swimming Championships in Sheffield where Eva picked up the Double Junior 50m and 100m freestyle titles with European Junior Consideration qualifying times. Speaking to both Eva and Izabella, Sevenoaks Sport & Wellbeing got to know them a little bit better and discovered what makes them tick when preparing for a competition, what they do when they’re trying to relax, their diets, and how much adulation they have for their parents, who have definitely had a helping hand in where they are today. Introducing Sevenoaks’ sensational swimming sisters! Steve Rowley writes. Photos courtesy of British Swimming, Sevenoaks Swimming Club and Helena Okaro.
We asked the girls when they started swimming and what motivated them to become a swimmer?
Eva replied: “We started swimming at three years old as we travelled a lot so learning to swim was vital. My parents started us swimming and we joined our first swimming club at the age of seven.”
Izabella adds: “We weren’t allowed to compete till the age of nine, so that just pushed me to keep going as I was looking forward to competing, along with the encouragement from my parents.”
You mention your parents encouragement, can you tell us the role they have had in your success?
Izabella said: “Our parents play a big role in our success as they have driven countless hours all over the country to compete and provide all the kit needed. Their support and encouragement has driven us to improve. Even on days when we do not feel up to training, mum would make us go, which has encouraged a routine which is very helpful.”
Eva commented: “Our parents got us into sport. Our mum had been super supportive driving Izzy and I to training every week. Early mornings, galas and I will forever be grateful. When my dad was available around his job, he would always come to watch competitions or take us to training. He has also attended all my international competitions so far.”
We asked the girls if they remember their first taste of success in the pool?
Eva said “I attended my first national meeting at 11 years old as I hadn’t quite turned 12 but I won the 50m fly, in the 12/13 category.
Izabella’s memory took her back to her first ever Kent County Championships, saying: “I was on the podium with my sister for nearly every single event we competed in.”
What inspires you to give your best every single day?
Izabella says that she “enjoys reaping the benefits of hard work in all aspects of my life. I believe that having a positive work ethic will always be beneficial. Eva simply adds “My family”.
What emotions do you feel when you swim well?
Eva comments: “When I swim well I feel complete. I feel like it’s what I was meant to do. That all the hard work my parents and I have put in is paying off.”
Izabella: “I feel happiness & relief. Happiness, when my times improve and relief after an event that I am not usually keen on doing.”
How do you cope with the mental pressures you face during tournaments?
Izabella states that she “copes by not putting a lot of pressure on myself. I tell myself, it will be over soon, it’s much easier to manage that way.”
Eva adds: “Personally I don’t get nervous, that’s always how it has been for me. Regardless of the meet level, I just think of it as a race. I always talk to people behind the blocks whether it is an opponent or the officials. This could be my coping mechanism. It is always good to stay relaxed and have fun when competing.”
Do you have a favourite song to listen to prior to competing?
Eva answered: “Any song I can sing to, preferably any 90’s R&B. I don’t usually listen to music before I race, but that’s my preference. It is something I would like to incorporate into my routine.“
Izabella said: “Usually Kanye, Drake, Daniel Ceaser or Bakar.”
What is the one thing you always do after a good performance?
Izabella takes note of the racing suit she wore, “I remember it for the next time I compete. I quietly congratulate myself for doing well too.”
Eva says: “I call my mum, I do this to get her opinion on the race, and if it was really good, I may ask if I could get something as a reward?”
Do you always eat healthy food?
Talking openly about their dietary habits, we found that it isn’t always pasta and vegetables on the menu.
Eva commented: “All my main meals are healthy, but healthy doesn’t have to be boring. I balance this out by having some ‘unhealthy’ treats but I have to do that otherwise I just won’t feel happy being deprived of what I like to eat. A diet with a good ratio of healthy food to unhealthy food. Unhealthy food isn’t bad for you unless you consume too much.”
Izabella added: “No, I eat both healthy and unhealthy foods. If it’s a race day, then I won’t reach for a burger/doughnuts but rather a banana/blueberries. A balance between the two is what works for me. The night before a big competition my go to would be pasta with some form of Protein. I haven’t really found anything that aids my performance yet.”
Do you have a favourite sports hero or role model that you look up to?
Eva says: “Muhammad Ali, because he did it his way. He had a bigger influence on society as well as being the greatest at his sport.”
Izabella adds: “Derek Redmond, as he showed immense resilience and perseverance during his race with a torn hamstring.”
Do you have any advice to the younger generation who want to start a career in sports?
They were both in agreement that you should find a sport you love. Izabella said: “Never quit and do not put too much pressure on yourself. You need a bit, but not too much“
Eva adds: “They should find a sport they love. Always do your best at every given opportunity. Remember to enjoy yourselves as having fun is how you flourish.”
What other sports do you love other than swimming?
Both girls love to play Netball but Eva recently sustained a tear to her achilles whilst playing so has been off since. “I got as far as being selected for the U15 Futures for London Pulse, but I’m unable to attend training due to my injury. I really enjoy the team aspect.”
Izabella adds: “I love to play Netball for school and at club level, and I enjoy athletics. I enjoy the variety in the sports, as swimming can be very Individual.”