Q&A: ‘Iolani swim champion Çagla Brennan

'Iolani senior swimmer Cagla Brennan starts her day at 4:30 a.m. Photo by Craig T. Kojima/Star-Advertiser.
‘Iolani senior swimmer Cagla Brennan starts her day at 4:30 a.m. Photo by Craig T. Kojima/Star-Advertiser.

Çagla Brennan keeps life simple: work hard, play hard, enjoy and celebrate the effort. It just so happens that she has the drive of a champion.

Brennan is a defending state champion in the 500-meter freestyle who is a big spark for the ‘Iolani Raiders. Her coach at ‘Iolani Swim Club, Ivan Batzanov, is also on staff for the school’s varsity swim team.

“She’s the hardest worker I have. She’s very committed to what she’s doing. I’ve coached her since she was 10, almost 11, she was always a hard worker, always right on time,” he said. “Her main events will be 200 and 500, and there might be more than that. She’s the only one who won all the freestyle (races) from 100 to mile (in age-group club competition). She’s really humble, so she never talks about herself, a very nice girl.”

One of Brennan’s highlights was in the offseason, when she competed in the Oceania championships in Fiji.

“One of my main goals as a coach was to send her (to Fiji),” Batzanov said. “She loved it. It was the first time she got out of the country.”

Brennan, who won the 200- and 500-meter freestyle races at the recent Kalani Invitational, shared her schedule and answered a plethora of questions in this week’s Q&A. A feature story about her was published in today’s Star-Advertiser.

Çagla Brennan
‘Iolani swimming

A day in the life
4:20 a.m. The first alarm goes off.
4:30 a.m. Second alarm.
4:35 a.m. Grab breakfast. “We have the breakfast sandwiches that you heat up.”
4:55 a.m. In the car. “Mostly I drive myself now (from Kunia). It used to be my mom.
5:50 a.m. Morning practice at ‘Iolani (club team).
7:45 a.m. Homeroom. “My friends are like, ‘I’m so tired.’ Oh, you’re so tired…”
3 p.m. School pau.
3:30 p.m. Afternoon practice (school team).
8:30 p.m. Bed time.

Athlete: Katie Ledecky
CB: It’s pretty mainstream, but she’s amazing! Ever since I saw her in the 2012 olympics when she was 15!

HPW: What is it about her that’s unique?

CB: She’s pretty strong. I think she’s gotten better and now that she’s at Stanford, I think she’s going to be even more amazing.

Team: Golden State Warriors.
CB: I don’t know about many other sports, but I like basketball and it would have to be the Golden State Warriors!

HPW: You’re one of the bandwagon people.

CB: Yeah, I am.

Food (at home): Dino Buddies chicken nuggets
CB: “They’re chicken nuggets shaped line dinosaurs. I have to cook my own dinner. My dad cooks chicken a lot. Grilled with seasoning from a Mexican place.” 

Food (eating out): Spinach and garlic pizza from Boston’s North End Pizza with extra cheese on top.
CB: “I get the little packet of (parmesan) cheese and my friends make fun of me because the cheese takes over the pizza.”

Hobby outside of sports: Futsal
CB: Futsal with my WGFC! It only happens once a year at the Iolani Fair, but it’s a great time to hang out with my friends who I’ve been playing with for two years now. I don’t play much because I can’t always kick the ball and I’m not much of a runner but it’s just fun to be out there cheering on my friends in a different setting!

HPW: What is futsal?

CB: “It’s like soccer, but on a smaller field and with a smaller ball. We just do it for fun. I kick really hard and it goes straight to nowhere usually.”

HPW: Did you play soccer as a younger kid?

CB: “I played soccer for six years (AYSO). I don’t really remember. It was just something I did after school for fun. I didn’t really like it because we had to run a lot.”

Movie: Grown Ups
CB: It’s funny and it makes me feel like it’s summer time even when it’s finals week haha.

HPW: Who’s in that movie?

CB:Adam Sandler, Kevin James, David Spade and Chris Rock.”

HPW: How many times have you seen this?

CB: “Maybe 30 times. I have it on DVD. It’s never moved from our DVD player.”

TV show: The Goldbergs
CB: The mom (Beverly) reminds me of my mom, who would do anything for her child or shmoop as she calls them in the show.

HPW: What channel and night is it on?

CB: “ABC on Wednesday, 7:30. I come home, we eat dinner and watch TV. ’Shmoop’ is what she calls her children.”

Music artist: Eminem or Taylor Swift.
CB: Two opposite ends of the spectrum, but both of their music comes from the heart and you can feel where they’re coming from.

HPW: Eminem is old school these days.

CB: My mom actually loves Eminem. My dad likes rock and roll so one of my pump-up songs is ’Surrender’ by Cheap Trick. I can’t really get pumped up to a rap song. It’s too intense. I perform better under less pressure, more fun circumstances.

Teacher (elementary through high school): Multiple
CB: I’ve had so many, it’s hard to choose, but my all-time favorites would be Mr. Michael Among, Mr. Alan Suemori, Mr. Matthew Gabe, and Mr. Ryan Sasaki because they all care about the student and will do anything to help their student. They were all always supportive and know exactly how to teach students in the way that helps the students grow.

GPA: 3.6
HPW: That’s really impressive considering all the hours you put into training. Don’t ‘Iolani students have a two-foot pile of homework every night?

CB: For me, I actually don’t have a pile of books. I have a locker on the third floor and I don’t want to walk up there if I don’t have to use it. I use nuggets of time to do work, after morning workout, or lunch time, though that doesn’t happen a lot. We have a long homeroom every day.

HPW: So some kids are playing video games or something else in homeroom?

CB: I think that might be it because I’m in bed by 8:30. I’m not a late-night person, and the morning practices, I don’t want to get too tired because that would mess up everything.

Class: Finding Poetry
CB: I don’t want to say it’s not having to write essays, that’s part of it, but it’s fun and free. I like writing funny poems and making people laugh, seeing my other classmates’ expressions because they know me. 

Place to relax: my room 

Motto/scripture: “Discipline yourself, and others won’t need to.” — John Wooden.
CB: I’ve always believed that I need to be disciplined myself so I could be more self sufficient and less of a pain to my coaches, teachers, and especially parents so that they know that they don’t have to do everything for me.

HPW: You must’ve played basketball to be interested in a basketball coach’s wisdom.

CB: “My dad and I watch a lot of 30 For 30s and shows like that. I watch those to get myself ready for a big meet. Some of them I have on iTunes.” 

What your mom (Naile Brennan) says that you can’t forget: “That’s cray cray!”
CB: She tries her best to stay up hep (hip) as my dad would say with her lingo and I love her for it.

HPW: You’ve got plenty of support from home.

CB: “They’re both passionate in their own ways. My mom is lovey-dovey and touchy-feely, both of them super supportive.” 

What your dad (Charles Brennan) says that you can’t forget: “Use your nuggets!”
CB: Which basically means if you have free time you shouldn’t just be sitting around watching Netflix! It’s pretty annoying sometimes, but without using his nuggets I would not be where I am today!

HPW: He keeps you accountable.

CB: “He knows what I need to do and I would not be in the shape I’m in without him, I think. My dad seems like he has a hard outer shell, but he’s a softie when it comes to me.”

HPW: Do you have brothers and sisters?

CB: “I’m an only child. I have a dog, she’s like sister (Maggie). She doesn’t always like me. She’s a princess.”

What your coaches say that you can’t forget:
CB: One time my coach, Ivan Batzanov, said that I have a big heart,” it meant a lot to me to know that he sees that I do everything I can in and out of the pool to succeed and make him, my family, and my friends proud.

How does your swimming affect your daily life during the season and offseason?
CB: I usually have to wake up every morning at 4:30 to go to morning practice or do something else if I don’t have morning practice since I live far from my school, then I have a little time before school to get ready for my classes, then I have school from 7:40 am-3:00 pm then I have practice from 3:30 pm-6:00 pm so it’s a pretty full and year round schedule, but swimming taught me so much about  time management that it somehow all works out at the end of the day, sometimes I’m rushing, but it gets done in the best way I can get it done in.

What middle and elementary schools did you attend?
CB: I went to Sacred Hearts Academy from kindergarten to fifth grade and the Iolani from sixth grade to now!

HPW: What do you miss about Sacred Hearts?

CB: “I had a good time there. It was a good place for me to start. ‘Iolani was more comfortable for me and I became more outgoing.”

What youth teams did you play for? 
CB: I tried soccer, judo, volleyball, and basketball when I was younger but I realized I wasn’t meant to do anything on land, I started on Iolani swim club when I was 6 and it’s the best decision my parents ever made  when trying to find me an after school activity!

HPW: What do you remember about being a freshman on the varsity swim team?

CB: Aja (Grande) was my role model. She was always very mature at practice, never rowdy. I was the youngest of the group and really rambunctious. Hanging around her helped me grow up. I learned a lot about how to act at practice and at swim meets.

HPW: She’s in the Ivy League now, right?

CB: She’s at Brown.

What club do you swim for and what are the daily commitments like year-round?
CB: I swim for ‘Iolani Swim Club. I usually have daily practices Monday through Friday in the morning from 5:50 to 7:10 am and in the afternoon from 3:30 to 6, and also on Saturdays from 7 to 10:00 am, or even sometimes until 11 am.
HPW: Where have you travelled for swimming?

CB: I’ve been to California, Washington, and Fiji — probably the best trip I’ve ever been on, I met some of my best friends on that trip, and it was so culturally enriching, since we were staying in a hotel with teams from Australia, New Zealand, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands, and so many more. I thought I left Fiji with an accent! Haha

HPW: How long was the trip?

CB: It was 10 days. I didn’t have to pay for any of it. The Oceania championships. A mini-Olympics for all the Pacific Islands. I was competing for Hawaii. We got to visit the town and sightsee.

HPW: What do you like to do — or what’s something else you’re good at — that would surprise most people?

CB: I’m pretty good at math, I think it’s all the laps in the pool and counting yardage that led to that! I think that’ll surprise some people because most people just think of me as a swimmer not always as a math nerd (which I am, I love numbers!) I actually got an MVP award from my Pre-Calculus teacher (Mr. Sasaki)! Haha

What is your ultimate dream/bucket list? 
CB: My ultimate bucket list is to travel around the world for swimming in any way possible. I’ve already kind of got there by going to Fiji, but if I could go any farther it would be amazing!

What is the history and background of your name?
CB: My first name, Çagla, is Turkish and means babbling brook or dried up pit of an apricot — which translates to almond“ (funny I know). It’s pronounced Chah-la, so no one should worry if they get it wrong because it happens pretty much everyday. When I go to Starbucks, I just say my name is Ann because it’s easier! My last name, Brennan, is Irish and it means brave which I hope to be as much as possible unless it comes to heights and scary hikes (like Koko Head).

HPW: Is the Turkish side from your mom?

CB: My grandmother is from China. She moved to Turkey. We’re Tatar, Muslim-Mongolian. She met my grandfather and then they moved to New York, came through Ellis Island. Somehow they met, I was never really clear on that. I’ve heard little tidbits all the time. I think my grandfather (a Russian Jew) was running from Nazi rule.

When they came to America, he joined the Coast Guard. My mom was born in New York City, then they moved to Hilo, and then Oahu when she was 4.

My dad’s side is full Irish. They met when my grandfather was in the Naval Academy or getting his master’s at Saint Louis University. My dad is the first of six children. He was on a work trip for Wang Computers, in Hawaii fixing computers. He fixed my grandma’s computer. She told him, you should meet my daughter. He was actually staying at the hotel where my mom was working at. They wanted to go out, but he didn’t know she was the daughter of my grandmother.

HPW: What is your plan for college?

CB: I’m thinking one of the military academies, not too sure yet.

HPW: The life of getting up by 5 in the morning.

CB: I’m basically doing that already.


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