Bike crash victim was swim coach ‘bound for great things’

“Marly’’ Pineda “was always the one you were motivated by,’’ said one longtime friend and fellow swimmer since childhood. “Marly’’ Pineda “was always the one you were motivated by,’’ said one longtime friend and fellow swimmer since childhood.
By June Q. Wu
Globe Correspondent / August 12, 2010

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Marlene Pineda was not one to back away from a challenge.

A former collegiate swimmer who was preparing for a coaching career, Pineda was a determined competitor who threw herself into grueling workouts in the pool at Smith College.

“I’d give her an insane set to do, knowing full well she could do it,’’ said Kim Bierwert, her coach through four years at Smith. “She would say, ‘OK!’ — that little high-pitched ‘OK!’ — always with a smile.’’

Pineda, 24, was remembered fondly by family and friends yesterday after she was struck by a car and killed Monday afternoon while cycling down a steep hill on Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton, where she had recently moved.

She showed early signs of the focus and intensity she would bring to achieving her goals, when, at age 8, she took up competitive swimming. After seeing the summer Olympics on television that year in her home town of Bosque Farms, N.M., Pineda announced she wanted to be a gold medal swimmer.

“There was no doubt Marly was going to swim, no matter what,’’ said her mother, Sheryl Pineda, 47. Marly was the nickname used by friends and family.

She did not reach the Olympics, but distinguished herself in the pool nonetheless. Bierwert remembered that Pineda made a vivid impression at her first practice at Smith.

“She had the fire of a 10-year-old doing something new for the first time, but at the same time had the focus and diligence of someone who was an adult,’’ Bierwert said. “Qualities of a child, focus of an adult, and the intellect of a coach — she was bound for great things.’’

She went on to be cocaptain of the swim team during her junior and senior years and holds the records at Smith’s Dalton Pool for the 1,000- and 1,650-yard freestyle.

“Whether you were ahead or behind, she was always the one you were motivated by,’’ said Douwe Yntema, a senior on the swim team at Harvard who grew up with Pineda in New Mexico and trained on the same team in high school. “She held everyone, including herself, to a very high standard.’’

Pineda graduated from Smith in 2008 with a bachelor’s in education and child study and followed that with a master’s in exercise and sports studies at the Northampton school. She relocated to Boston after receiving her master’s degree this spring.

Since then, she had been learning how to coach the sport from poolside. She had been the interim head coach of the Cambridge Masters Swim Club and assistant coach of the Harvard women’s swim team. While in graduate school at Smith, Pineda had served as Biewert’s assistant coach, and he said he was hoping she would ultimately succeed him.

“It’s something we joked about,’’ Bierwert said.

Pineda often dressed in bright colors that reflected her upbeat personality. She had a knack for building team morale with her smiles and encouraging words.

Alex Page, a junior on the swim team at Smith whom Pineda coached, remembered Pineda’s support during a team’s training trip to Puerto Rico.

James Johnson, chairman of the department of exercise and sports studies at Smith, recalled a colleague asking Pineda why she was always smiling.

“She said she thought the alternative was not the way to go in life,’’ Johnson said.

A memorial service will be held Saturday at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool.

June Wu can be reached at

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