By Leslie Dinaberg, from the Summer 2012 issue of Santa Barbara SEASONS
When it comes to water polo, Kami Craig is at the peak of her game.
She's one of the top centers in professional women’s water polo, coming off a banner senior year at USC, where she led her team to a national championship. On the local front, she is the most accomplished women’s player in Santa Barbara Aquatics Club history—she even won a silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
This summer, she’s hoping to bring home the gold.
Training for the Olympics feels different this time, explains the 2005 Santa Barbara High graduate, who still holds the school record for single-season goals (123) and the most goals scored in one game (9). “This time around, I have a little bit more experience. I’m not the youngest on the team anymore. I can share that experience with girls who are coming in and having it be their first time. It’s really exciting.“
One of those younger girls she mentors is also a local, Sami Hill, a former Dos Pueblos High standout who took a leave from the team at UCLA to train for the Olympics, as Kami did from USC in 2008. “Kami’s been great about answering questions,“ says Sami. “Plus it’s fun to have somebody from your hometown there.“
Giving back to up-and-coming athletes is important to Kami, who loves to surf in her spare time. Last season, she even trained with the girls at Santa Barbara High for a few weeks. “They are so much fun. …I got to work with them and scrimmage with them and against them and then came back for the alumni game. They’re just a bunch of good girls. They look up to you and it’s super fun. …it was fun to come back and play in the high school pool and just be with a bunch of high school girls. It felt like yesterday that we were all playing there and having fun and enjoying the game.“
In the Beijing Olympics, “I was the youngest on the team,“ says Kami. ”I had a lot to learn still.“
Kami is more confident this time around as an Olympian, but she is still working every bit as hard as the first time around. A typical training day starts with a three-hour morning practice, including weight lifting, swimming and working on drills and tactics. Then she heads home for a big lunch and a few errands, then back into the pool for another three-hour practice, which is “typically all water polo, whether we scrimmage or do more drills, work on counter attacks, things like that…then come home, eat a big dinner, fall asleep between 8:30 and 9:30 at night and wake up in the morning and do it again.“
Sunday is typically the only day off, although a rare recent two days off in a row had her heading to Jalama Beach to go camping with friends.
“You need a good support group around you to help accomplish everything that you need to take care of with such limited time off,“ Kami explains. Luckily she has one. Her boyfriend, her parents, Steve and Dale, and her brothers, Jeff and Tony, all plan to be in London this summer to cheer her on at the 2012 Olympic Games. And she can be sure that those of us here at home also will be watching proudly.