Emory University senior and Dr. Phillips High alumna Cindy Cheng already has national titles and program records to her credit — and most recently some ink in Sports Illustrated.
Since 1956, Sports Illustrated has highlighted amateur athletes from around the nation by way of its “Faces in the Crowd” feature.
On Jan. 15, Cindy Cheng, a senior swimmer at Emory University and Dr. Phillips High alumna, joined their ranks.
“I had no idea and I got a text from my roommate that said, ‘Congrats on being in Sports Illustrated,’” Cheng said. “I honestly had no idea what she was talking about. I was just really surprised because Sports Illustrated is such a huge magazine and such a platform to be on. For my hard work to be recognized is such an amazing feeling — it was really surreal.”
As exciting of an occasion as it was, it certainly was well-deserved.
For my hard work to be recognized is such an amazing feeling — it was really surreal.”
Cheng’s recognition came because of her performance in December at the Miami Invitational, during which she won all three individual events she competed in and also helped add a pair of relay wins. During the meet, Cheng broke her previous school record in the 200 backstroke — her time of 1:56.63 also was a meet record. Her times in the 200 backstroke and 200 freestyle (1:47.84) are the fastest recorded times in Division II this season.
All of this comes on the heels of a breakout junior season at Emory during which Cheng became an individual national champion at the Division III level twice — in both the 100 and 200 freestyle races.
She was also the University Athletic Association Swimmer of the Year in both 2016 and 2017.
It’s a remarkable run of success that all has its roots here locally. While swimming for the Panthers in high school, Cheng said coaches Natalie Nickson and Leo Ramirez were pivotal in helping her get to the next level.
“Definitely, they helped with my career early on — I had kind of hit a wall during high school, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep on going because I wasn’t seeing improvement,” Cheng said, noting the two veteran coaches helped her push through.
Cheng also swam club for YMCA of Central Florida and later the SouthWest Stars, where she worked with Justin Correia in another coach-athlete dynamic that paid dividends later.
Making the move from Orlando to Atlanta, Cheng recalls a bit of a learning curve with the transition from high-school to college swimming.
“It was the adjustment of how many hours I had to commit to the sport,” Cheng recalled. “Finding that balance for everything — swimming-wise and school.”
A human health major with ambitions of one day earning her master’s degree and working in health care administration or as a health care consultant, Cheng has come to rely on the support of her parents — Haibing and Shuping Cheng.
“They were definitely a huge factor in everything that I did,” Cheng said. “My parents are my No. 1 fans.”
Although repetitions in the pool and coaching from the staff at Emory certainly have played a role in the former Panthers’ upward trajectory, Cheng also said the evolution of her mental approach to the sport — and school — has been key.
“I’ve come to realize that failing is OK along the way, and it definitely helps me learn my strengths and weaknesses — how I am as a person and how I function."
“I think I used to be very anxious of not knowing what would come and kind of being anxious about school and swimming,” Cheng said. “I’ve come to realize that failing is OK along the way, and it definitely helps me learn my strengths and weaknesses — how I am as a person and how I function.”
Over the next two months, Cheng will complete her collegiate career, ending with the NCAA Division III Championships in Indianapolis March 21 to 24. Where once she might have been anxious about this home stretch, Cheng now said she is trying to soak it all in before she moves on to her next adventure.
“I definitely try to enjoy every moment,” Cheng said. “I definitely am just trying to have fun — to just take it day by day.”