During last year’s Boston City swimming championships, Cristian Mojica sat on the side of the pool with a stopwatch in his hand.
The Latin Academy swimmer and football player couldn’t perform in the meet due to his poor grades. His father and coach, who also swam and played football for Boston English High back in the late 1980s, forced his son to serve as a time keeper during last year’s meet to teach him a lesson.
The lesson was well learned.
The junior will now compete in the swimming city championships at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Madison Park High and he was named the Boston Scholar Athletes' February Scholar-Athlete of the Month.
“At the beginning of my high school career, I never would’ve thought I would be nominated for that because my grades weren’t where they should’ve been,” Mojica said during a recent swim meet. “But now I stepped my grades up so it feels good to be nominated."
Longtime Latin Academy swimming coach Mark Thomas said Mojica had a 1.66 grade point average last winter and athletes are required to have a 1.67 GPA to participate.
“I honestly don’t think he took it that serious last year and he didn’t think it was a big deal and he’d be able to slide by. Well guess what, he didn’t,” Thomas said. “He came to me and said ‘What can you do?’ I said ‘Cristian there’s nothing I can do. If I could’ve done something I would’ve.' He needed to learn a lesson.
"I think it absolutely killed him to miss the last three or four weeks and not go to the cities. Instead of swimming he sat there and timed, which his father made him do.”
That’s when Thomas made sure that the school’s BSA Zone Facilitator Eliza Bryant was on the case. Now Mojica carries a solid 3.2 GPA.
“He had a good football season [this year], I looked at his grades all fall; they were good coming into this season,” Thomas said. “It was a great turnaround. It’s a good time to turnaround in a kid’s life. It’s what we like to do. I think as far as the [BSA] program they have for these kids, it’s a glowing example of what can be done if a kid wants to do something."
Nobody is more proud than Mojica’s father, Richard Mojica, who coaches the swim team at the Flaherty Swimming Pool in Roslindale. He has also been a volunteer coach at Latin Academy well before his son was old enough to attend the school.
“He took the time to start to pay more attention to what he was doing,” said the elder Mojica, who played football for UMass Boston. “He had a vision of what he wanted. I’ve been trying to encourage him.”
The younger Mojica has been swimming since he was 8-years-old, when his father started working at the Flaherty pool.
“I took to swimming right away because at the time I wasn’t really into sports but I picked up on swimming really quick and it helped having my dad as a coach,” he said. “[I liked] the water. I got to do whatever I wanted. I felt like a fish.”
These days the 100 backstroke is Mojica’s best event. But that wasn’t always the case.
“When I was younger I used to hate backstroke because the water used to get in my face," he said. "But once we were at a meet in New York and I had to swim the backstroke because [my dad] put everyone in the backstroke and I ended up winning the race and after that he started putting me in it more and I started liking it more.”
The 5-foot-9-inch, 210-pounder — who will likely be the No. 1 seed in the 100 backstroke in Wednesday’s city meet — does not exactly have Michael Phelps’ washboard abs.
But he said he loves swimming in big meets because people usually underestimate his ability.
“Most people when they see me they don’t think of me as a swimmer because I don’t look like your average swimmer,” he said. “They are usually like ‘he can’t swim’ and then they come to me after and say ‘oh, I didn’t know you could do that.’ ”
And when he’s playing offensive and defensive line on the football field, he has to hear teammates chide him for his affinity for the water. But Mojica says swimming makes him a better football player and football makes him a better swimmer.
“I swim in the morning every day before a football game because it gets me loose and football, it gets me strong for swimming,” he said. “They say I have anger problems. I like playing football because it helps me take out my anger.
“[Swimming] helps me calm down and relax.”
These days, Mojica is getting it done in the classroom, too.
“I realized I had to put in the work over the sports," he said. "Before, I was more sports minded.“
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