Kids Who Measure Up

By AFM – December 4, 2013

Raleigh Hager

Austin's wake surfing champ
By Emily Laskowski

When Raleigh Hager was 10 years old, she won her first world championship in wake surfing, and AFM sat down for a chat with the young pro athlete (“10-year-old Rules Wake Surfing World,” December 2012). Now, Hager, 12 years old and in middle school, won her second consecutive Pro Women’s World Wake Surfing Championship in October 2013 and we’re back for another visit.

Raleigh Hager may be a phenom in wake surfing but, at home, she’s just Raleigh, a typical kid.

With the support of her parents, Erin and JB, and many pets—including a dog, pig, and new litter of baby gerbils—Hager trains three to four times a week on the water and twice a week doing strength and conditioning. While she admits that she should be practicing more often, Hager also concedes that, now, in the sixth grade, she “has a lot going on.” Like many 12-year-olds, Hager is moving at a mile a minute. She goes from brushing her hair to checking her phone to playing with the dog to jumping on the trampoline to skateboarding inside the family home in a matter of seconds.

“She is a goofy, 12-year-old kid, in all the right ways a 12-year-old should be goofy,” her mom Erin said. And this admission makes Hager’s intense focus on wake surfing all the more interesting. “When she is on her board,” Erin added, “she is a whole other person, so it’s just so awesome to see her transform and be passionate about something at such a young age.”

In a quick recap, wake surfing—often confused with wakeboarding—is a water sport in which the athlete trails behind a boat, riding the wake without being directly attached to the boat. The wake from the boat mimics the look and feel of an actual ocean wave, hence the term “surfing.” After getting up on the wave by use of a towrope, wake surfers drop the rope and ride below the wave's peak. Unlike wakeboarding, the surfer’s feet aren’t attached to the board.

A family trip to California first introduced Hager to the sport of surfing. Her parents fondly remember finding their ball-of-energy daughter exhausted from a one-hour surfing lesson. Impressed, they did some research into how Hager could surf when they returned home. Eventually, their daughter was wake surfing on Lake Austin.

In 2013, as the reigning World Champion, Hager wanted to show her competitors that her first year’s success was not a fluke. She competed in some eight competitions to again qualify for the World Championships. “She is very hard on herself,” Erin said, adding that Hager often chalks up her first championship to the other wake surfers simply having a bad day. This past year, Hager, inspired by the men’s professional circuit, introduced more tricks to her routine, and it paid off. She again bested the competition, all of whom were women about ten years her senior. There are no other pre-teen or even teenage girls competing at Hager’s level. “I think it plays to her favor sometimes to just be a kid,” Erin mused.

Where adults might be overthinking the pressure of the competition, Hager is still just out there having fun. True to form, she just goes for it. “Sometimes I ask my coach what I should do to land a trick, and he’s like, ‘Don’t think,’” Hager said.

With two world championships under her belt, Hager still describes herself simply as a “surfer, skater girl.” But the newfound fame does incite some interesting requests at school. Hager laughed as she explained that kids often come up and ask if she can do a backflip on the water, to which she simply responds, “That’s wakeboarding.”

Juliette Dell

Kids-Who-Measure-Up-Juliette-DellEquitation champion…and a girl who loves horses
By Leah Fisher Nyfeler

The horse is sleek and shining with a flowing, silken tail; the rider is an elegant young woman in jodhpurs, coat, and top hat. The two move effortlessly through the ring in a wordless duet. This is the world of Saddle Seat Equitation, and the rider is Austinite Juliette Dell, a national champion and a girl who loves horses.

Equitation is a complex sport that, when done well, appears easy. Horses and riders seem to magically move through a series of patterns with subtle nuances; the closest athletic comparison would be to rhythmic gymnastics (sans music—and with only 60 minutes to learn the routine). The judges’ focus is primarily on the rider: evaluating how well she performs the prescribed patterns, her presence in the ring, and her form while riding. Dell, who competes in four different types of events, has 160 career wins and is a World Champion 14 times over, all by the age of 17. In October, she received an invitation to the 2014 Saddle Seat World Cup Trials, to be held on December 7 in Fulton, Missouri—and she’s the only Texan invited in either event (she’s competing in the Three-Gaited Trials; there is a Five-Gaited Trials as well). If selected, Dell will be one of five team members representing the United States in July at the 2014 International Saddle Seat World Cup competition in Asheville, N.C.

Ever since she was 8 years old, Dell has wanted to be part of the Saddle Seat World Cup team. “Juliette has always had high goals and big ambitions,” explained her mother, Susan. “I knew when Juliette was asking to miss family vacations and important school functions so she could train and compete that we had entered a new phase. Michael and I do as much pulling back as we can…she is so driven and dedicated to her goals that I can’t imagine anyone pushing her harder than she pushes herself. We see our job as her parents to be as supportive of her as we can possibly be.”

That competitive drive started with an early passion for horses. Dell fell in love with the sport watching her older sister Kira. She begged her mom to let her ride; Susan established that she needed to be 4 years old in order to get up on a horse: “I will never forget waking up the morning of my fourth birthday and running to find my mom, asking if I could finally start riding,” Juliette reminisced. At 5, she got her first horse (“and first love”), Maxx, and began competing.

What is equitation’s appeal for Dell? She is drawn to the combination of perfect position and control that makes the sport a mental and physical challenge for the rider. “Once riders achieve the goals within the world of Saddle Seat Equitation,” she explained, “they will always have the invaluable tools to ride even the most challenging horse to the best of its ability.”

The perfect posture required for equitation requires strength and endurance, and Dell works with an instructor to do exercises that build her balance, endurance, and core. “When I’m away from the barn, I like to stay fit by running after school. I also do yoga and build the strength in my arms and legs by lifting weights,” Dell said. She tries to get a workout in every day that she’s not riding. There’s also mental preparation; after her lessons, Dell writes down the new things she’s learned. “I have spent countless hours memorizing individual workouts,” she said, “which helps me prepare for whatever I may have to do when I compete.”

It’s tough work performing at this level. There is a lot of travel between her home in Austin and competition sites, and the family tries hard to keep things normal with dinners at home as often as possible. Susan noted the importance of finding time together during the school week. “We congregate in our family study in the evenings…the kids do homework and Michael and I work at our desks, so the four of us get to interact while we get our work done.” And there’s also the challenge of “keeping (Juliette) from getting over-worked. Between her riding schedule and her responsibilities at school, she stays very busy. I try hard to make time in her schedule for some relaxation, so she can recharge.”

Though following her passion has been demanding, Dell wouldn’t change anything. “While I have not had a particularly normal high school experience,” she said, “I have been lucky enough to find friends at school who are supportive of my riding. I’ve also met some of my best friends through horseback riding, and those friendships I treasure deeply.” If you watch her application video, you’ll see a wide smile that vividly portrays her sentiments: “I am always happy with what I am doing because I have this opportunity to follow my dreams.”

Roberto Arguello 

Kids-Who-Measure-Up-Roberto-ArguelloLearning life lessons through the game of golf
by Natalie England

As a 17-year-old at St. Michael’s Academy, ranked among the top in his junior class, Roberto Arguello is uniquely qualified for the physical challenges and mental tests presented by 18 holes of fairway and green.

He grew up never far from a soccer ball or baseball bat, and when a golf club finally stuck in his grip during middle school, Arguello found the perfect pursuit for a kid with an intellectual curiosity to match his slightly pigeon-toed, athletic frame.
Golf was invented for kids like Roberto Arguello, but it’s a sport he’s come to know and love through The First Tee of Greater Austin (TFTGA).

“You can get golf instruction at any country club,” Arguello said. “At the First Tee, we focus more on life skills because you need those on the golf course too.”

No matter the age division, each weekly two-hour class begins with a discussion about a core value. Arguello is now a student in the most competitive First Tee division and serves as a mentor to the younger classes.

On this Saturday, like most Saturdays, Arguello arrived early to the TFTGA’s Harvey Penick Golf Campus in East Austin. Though his practice session wasn’t scheduled until later that afternoon, Arguello wanted to cut a few extra swings through the balmy October air before speaking to the younger golfers about “judgment.”

“I didn’t really use any anecdotes,” Arguello explained. “I just talked about picking the right club and things like that.”
What Arguello doesn’t understand, or is perhaps too humble to admit, is that he is the anecdote. He is the example.

“He doesn’t act like a kid,” said Arguello’s coach, Jeff Bell. “He has that presence that when he speaks, people listen.”

The TFTGA aims to “impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf.”

Wellness, even to the elementary-aged, connects the mind, body, and soul through calm decision making and proper diet and exercise. Arguello, for example, rarely drinks soda, says no to burgers before practice, and strives to work out three or four times a week.

“When I’m practicing with buddies, if you lose a hole, you do something like ten push-ups. And if you win the hole, you pick the workout for the loser,” Arguello said. “I like practicing with better players because it pushes me.”

Last March as a high school sophomore, Arguello was one of the youngest of 32 teenagers nationwide selected to attend the First Tee Outstanding Participant Summit in Nashville, Tenn. The interactive and educational event, featuring speakers like President George W. Bush and Annika Sorenstam, offered participants the opportunity to hone their skills as leaders in their chapters, schools, and communities.

Arguello returned with a service project assignment focused on developing a program that will improve TFTGA’s retention rate among younger players and girls.

Working with the San Antonio chapter, Arguello has developed the concept of an inner First Tee match held in conjunction with the Valero Texas Open, a PGA event hosted March 27–30, 2014, at the TPC San Antonio. Select First Tee participants will compete in a match play tournament at historic Brackenridge Golf Club and then bus over to watch the professional tournament.

“Being a mentor has really solidified the core values in Roberto, because he understands he has to live what he’s telling (the younger kids),” said his mother Terry Arguello. “He can’t just talk the talk. He has to live it, because those kids are looking up to him.”

Roberto said he’s still seeking a signature tournament victory, despite routinely shooting in the mid-70s and boasting a personal-best round of 71 at historic Lions Municipal. Still, he chooses to spend most of his time focusing on academics and earning a scholarship to Stanford.

The beauty of golf, however, comes in the wisdom gained during every competitive round. Trophies become life lessons learned.

Just last summer, Arguello took a rebuilt swing to a tournament and quickly found himself 5-over after two holes. On the third tee box, Arguello steadied his emotions and devised a formula to “piece two different swings together.” He didn’t hit a driver the remainder of the round and finished with a 6-over 80, carding just one more bogey over 16 holes.

“That was satisfying, because I had to overcome my swing and myself,” Arguello said. “Of all the core values [of TFTGA], confidence is one of my favorites, because you have to believe in yourself before anyone else will believe in you.”

Tate Jackson

Kids-Who-Measure-Up-Tate-JacksonSibling rivalry fosters success in the pool
By Courtenay Verret

Many young swimmers are inspired by world records, podiums, and Olympic medals.
Tate Jackson just wanted to beat his big brother.

The 16-year-old has been swimming since the age of 5, when his parents enrolled him and older brother Trent in a YMCA program in Muscatine, Iowa. At the time, his parents hoped he’d have some fun and learn how to swim, but Jackson soon found he had a competitive edge—a bad case of sibling rivalry. “I liked to do everything my brother did and try and beat him at it,” he joked.

Jackson discovered he loved sprinting—and he was fast. By the time he reached middle school, he had even garnered his brother’s respect. “Trent was a lot bigger than me,” he explained. “[When I was in] middle school, I was going times my brother was impressed with. I thought, ‘Hey, I could beat my brother.’ It helped me get into competitive swimming.”

Becoming a competitive athlete means making sacrifices and cultivating self-discipline. Jackson, however, took that leap: “[I knew I was serious] when I wanted to swim instead of doing social things; when I decided I had better give up time for swimming,” he explained. “I had to dedicate not only 2.5 hours [a day] to practice, but an hour [commute] to get there.”

Fortunately for Jackson, his parents offered 100 percent support. “Our rule has always been, ‘We’ll facilitate, but you have to do the work,’” his mother Joni said. “If you love it, you go for it.”

Jackson's athletic career has been made easier by the fact that most of his friends are swimmers, too. “A lot of social events included people who were swimming anyway,” he said. “It was just as much fun to go to with them to the pool as to the movies.”

His mother echoed: “They were having all this fun in the pool. It was a good balance between fun and work.”

Jackson's hard work in the pool soon began to pay off. His times continued to improve, and both he and his brother ultimately helped their high school swim team win the Iowa state championship. After moving to Texas in 2012, they joined Nitro Swimming; under coach Tim O’Brien, Jackson developed a customized training plan and schedule. Today, in addition to his pool workouts, Jackson regularly trains with Tim Meyer of Meyer Athletic Development, working on balance, stability, and strength.

His efforts continue to reap rewards. At the 2013 National Club Swimming Association Junior Nationals, Jackson made the C Final in the 50 Free, breaking the elusive 21-second barrier with a time of 20.72. He’ll also be competing in the short course U.S. Junior National Championships this December, where he hopes to make the A Final. “He’s knocking on the door of senior nationals,” said his father, Eric.

Collegiate swimming has also started to loom on Jackson’s horizon. The Vista Ridge High School junior has begun his college search and is looking at Division I schools like Notre Dame (where his brother swims). But the promise of another sibling rivalry also looms. Southern California, Michi-gan, Stanford, Arizona, and Texas are also on Jackson’s radar. He hopes to study pre-med but realizes that student athletes must be mindful when juggling training and schoolwork.

“It’s hard,” he admitted. “You have a lot less time. You really have to figure out when to do your homework.”

When training and competing on such a broad stage, it can understandably be difficult to stay in the present moment. “It’s balance and personal responsibility,” Joni noted.

Another way Jackson has overcome this pitfall is by setting small, attainable goals—whether it’s dropping another hundredth of a second or out-touching his brother in a race. As he embarks on his collegiate career and beyond, Jackson plans to travel the long road one step at a time, relying on the support of his parents—and, of course, on the friendly, competitive nudge from his big brother.



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