Penelope Yamauchi - press democrat article

On the subject of achieving success, thousands of pages have been written, countless seminars have been conducted and an untold number of companies have shelled out big bucks for high-profile speakers.
But listen to Penelope Yamauchi, 18, a senior at Montgomery High, and it seems this business of realizing your dreams is about as complex as a Dick-and-Jane reader.

"It helps when I set a goal ahead of time," Yamauchi said. "I'm thinking about it, then I know I can do it. Then I have to do everything I can to do it. Then I do it."

In other words, visualize goal. Then work tail off.

Got it? Yamauchi clearly does.

Entering the North Bay League Championships on Saturday at Santa Rosa Junior College, Yamauchi is preparing to conclude her high school career as one of the most decorated swimmers in Redwood Empire history.

Yamauchi owns all-time Empire records in the 200 individual medley and 100 breastroke and ranks second in the 500 freestyle. She broke the 200 IM mark, held since 1996, by nearly six seconds and broke the 100 breaststroke standard, held since 1982, by more than 1.3 seconds.

Last year, she became the only female swimmer in Empire history to achieve automatic North Coast Section qualifying times in all eight individual events. She then won an NCS title in the 200 IM, an event in which she ranked seventh in the nation.

She has signed with Arizona State, which is paying 70 percent of her tuition, and is less than a second away in two events from qualifying for this summer's U.S. Olympic Trials.

The secret to Yamauchi's success? It isn't much of a secret at all. It has a lot do with desire and hard work.

Her mom, Hermine Terhorst, the Santa Rosa Masters swim coach, recalls her daughter, then 12, wanting to reach the elite group on her club team, the Santa Rosa Neptunes.

Yamauchi had to swim the 500 freestyle in 5 minutes, 40 seconds to move to elite. Terhorst dutifully encouraged her. But she assumed the qualifying time was well beyond her daughter's reach.

Not long after, Yamauchi made the qualifying time. And Terhorst had learned a lesson from a 12-year-old.

"She's taught me about goals," Terhorst said. "As long as you say something it comes true. Penelope has the natural heart of a successful athlete. Her skill is not as phenomenal as her heart is. She's just driven to do it. Every coach has loved her because she does whatever they ask. Whatever it takes."

For all her brilliance, Yamauchi has spent much of her career in the large shadow cast by former Montgomery star Amanda Sims, a prodigy who won seven NCS titles and earned collegiate honorable-mention All-American honors as a freshman this year at Cal.

If the spotlight has missed Yamauchi, she says she doesn't mind. She's grateful to have learned from Sims, who showed countless Neptunes how to succeed through her quiet example.

Yamauchi was watching. And now she doesn't go out on Friday nights -- the Neptunes have Saturday morning practices. She doesn't have a boyfriend; maybe in college, she says. She does Pilates three times a week. She avoids any sport, such as wakeboarding, in which she could get injured.

The Neptunes train 50 weeks a year -- often at 5:45 a.m. -- and routinely log more than 25 miles in training a week. But Yamauchi can't get enough.

During the Neptunes' two-week break last summer, Yamauchi got back in the pool early.

"I can't not swim," Yamauchi said. "I start to miss it after a day."

Neptunes coach Dan Greaves says Yamauchi is likely the most versatile swimmer in the history of the Empire, an area that includes Jenna Johnson, a three-time medalist at the 1984 Olympics. And Greaves believes Yamauchi's development has accelerated in recent years thanks to an understanding of her vast potential.

"I think two years ago it dawned on her that she is one of the best," Greaves said. "And she started acting like an athlete all the time. She really started focusing on what she was eating and getting the proper amount of sleep."

Yamauchi's commitment has resulted in an NCS title and a college scholarship, goals she set for herself years ago.

The one item she hasn't checked off her list -- qualifying for this summer's U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb. -- is agonizingly close.

Yamauchi is less than a second off qualifying standards in the 200 IM and 200 breastroke. She has two more opportunties to qualify -- the Santa Clara International Grand Prix (May 15-18) and the Summer Sanders Invitational (June 13-15) in Roseville.

Yamauchi has visualized her goal. She's worked her tail off. Now all that's left is for her to do it.

If she does, it will be another reminder that achieving success is easy.

It just requires everything you have.

You can reach staff writer Eric Branch at 521-5268 or