INDIANAPOLIS -- Quickly, there was no doubt in Caroline Arakelian’s mind.
When Nick Arakelian, her brother, dove into the water to begin the men‘s 500-yard freestyle race Friday night at the Division II Swimming and Diving Championships in IUPUI Natatorium, Caroline took one look.
“At the beginning of that race, I could tell in the first 25 [yards] that he’s got this,” she said. “He’s going to win it.”
A sister knows.
Despite falling more than a second behind Victor Polakov of West Chester midway through the race, Arakelian blew past him and Daniel Bis of Saint Leo to win his third consecutive national title. He owned the final 100 yards as his Queens (North Carolina) teammates, including Caroline, cheered him on from the edge of the pool.
His winning time of 4:20.98 smashed the Division II championship record by half a second. And it was his second national record this week.He is a freshman and hasn’t lost a race at the national championships; three individual wins, plus another national title in Friday night’s 800-yard freestyle relay.
“Yeah, I’m very, very proud,” Caroline Arakelian said. “He came in here as a freshman. … He came here, kind of said, what are nerves? And just went for it. He’s doing awesome.”
“He’s so young,“ Queens coach Jeff Dugdale said. “Our ultimate goal is to put him on the USA team.”
And he’s only half the deal.
Later Friday night, Caroline swam the anchor leg in the Royals’ championship-record win in the women’s 800-yard freestyle relay.
Two Arakelians. Two national records in consecutive relay races. No wonder Queens is entering the final day of the championships in first place on both the men’s and women’s sides. The Royals have never won a national team championship in swimming.
“Swimming has truly been an incredible journey, and I’m so thankful and grateful that he’s been by my side through all of it,” Caroline, a junior, said of her younger brother. “He’s been by my side through the success and failures, all the way from the state meet back when we were 12 to the Olympic Trials in 2012. It would not have been the same without him.”
And to understand the closeness and the love of this Michigan family, which includes a father as a police officer, you have to wind back the clock. They began swimming at Kingfish Aquatics, where they were coached by former Michigan swimmer Brad Brockway.
“We’d go to the pool and swim in the same lane,” Caroline said. “Every day for about 10 years.”
When Nick would rather sleep than crawl out of bed for yet another swim practice, Caroline was in his room waking him up. Sleeping late was not an option.
“There was a bit of a patch I hit when I was 11 or 12. I was still doing well in the pool, but I didn’t really love it,” Nick said. “My passion wasn’t there. I remember, she would always come into my room, get me going, ‘C’mon, it’s time for practice.’ And that’s a real great memory I have from that.”
Caroline laughs about it now.
“Yeah, he wasn’t always too happy with me,” she said. “At 5 in the morning, I’d go in and get him out of the bed. I’d sit in the driveway and honk the horn.”
And for awhile, she got him in the pool, too.
“Oh, gosh, she beat me up and down the pool until I was probably 12 or 13,” Nick said. “She’d beat me in practice even when I was beating her in meets because she trained so hard.”
Sibling rivalry? No, this is a family bond that is rock solid. Caroline is Nick’s inspiration.
“She’s my best friend. She's my biggest motivation,” Nick said.
Those words touch Caroline deeply.
“That’s incredible. It makes me get choked up,” Caroline said. “But we’ve grown up swimming together ever since we were 8 years old.”
“She is (an inspiration) for many people,” Dugdale said. “She’s a great leader.”
“She’s a downright inspiration,” Nick added. “I know that she really helps create a culture with the upperclassmen on our team. She’s created a culture of just hard work and love and fun.”
Nick was recruited by several NCAA DI schools, including Michigan and Auburn. All that you need to know about his bond with Caroline is that he told her first of his decision to go to Queens.
“When he came on a recruiting trip to Queens, I was extremely excited,” Caroline said. “He called me. I was the first person he called before he even called the coaches to tell me he committed. It‘s great to have him by my side for all of this.”
Now they are a duo that may be the strongest in college swimming anywhere. Nick Arakelian won the 1000 free Wednesday, 400 IM Thursday and 500 free Friday. He’ll go after another title in the 1,650 free Saturday. Caroline finished second to teammate Patricia Castro Ortega in the women’s 200 IM Wednesday and was on a winning relay team Friday. She’ll defend her two-time national titles in the 200 backstroke Saturday.
Dugdale will be able to sit back and enjoy the show. How else to enjoy this sister-and-brother act?
“It really puts me at ease and peace knowing that they’re coming from solid families with solid belief systems, solid programs,” Dugdale said, “so that what we can do is we can really focus on fine-tuning them to have the good times that they’re having.”