Tumua Anae had always loved being in the water, and starting at the age of 8, she swam competitively.
By the time she reached her sophomore year at Corona del Mar High School in Newport Beach, Calif., however, Anae got sick of swimming.
What does a swimmer do when they get sick of swimming but still love being in the water?
For Anae, the answer was simple — she took up water polo instead.
Flash forward to the present, and Anae is now a contender for one of two goalie positions on the USA water polo team for the 2012 Olympics.
"I always dreamed of going to the Olympics when I was young, and I think now that I have the opportunity to travel with the national team and represent my country, it's so much more real and so much closer to a lifelong goal that I've had," said Anae, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "It almost seems a little surreal sometimes."
Around the time she began playing water polo is when she caught the attention of the person who is now the coach of Team USA, Adam Krikorian. Krikorian was then coaching water polo at UCLA.
He said the first thing he noticed about Anae was her natural talent in goal. He said she had good size and length, great leg strength and was quick to react.
"As I got to know her and watch her a bit more, I became more impressed with her demeanor in the goal — the confidence and calmness with which she plays that position," Krikorian said. "Even from an opposing coach's point of view you could tell that she had a tremendous work ethic and you could tell she was a great leader for her team."
After high school she played as a goalie for four years on the water polo team at the University of Southern California, while she majored in broadcast journalism. Then, the summer after her senior year, she started training with the national team.
Currently, she shares the net with two other U.S. goalies, including Betsy Armstrong, a goalkeeper who made 28 saves at the 2011 Pan American Games to help Team USA win a gold medal and qualify for the Olympics.
Anae also helped Team USA on its way to the Olympics, blocking a penalty shot in a game against Australia that secured a U.S. win.
However, she brushed off the significance of the moment. Instead, she talked about just being able to contribute for the sake of the rest of the team.
"You want to support your team, and in order to do that I need to block the ball," Anae said.
The team aspect of water polo has always been Anae's favorite part of the game, which was impressive to Krikorian.
"When you talk about people who are a team-first kind of people, there's not a question in my mind her No. 1 is her team," Krikorian said. "As motivated and as driven as she is an individual, I don't think there's anything that motivates her more than the team's success."
Final cuts for Team USA aren't until May, downsizing the final roster from 16 to 13, and until then Anae will continue to train with Team USA. There are currently three goalies on the roster, but only two will go to the Olympics.
Anae is the only Mormon on her team, and she said that her team is well aware of her religious beliefs.
"When we go out on a team trip and go out and they drink after a game win or big tournament they say, 'Oh yeah, Tumua can't come, she's Mormon,' or, 'Tumua you can't watch — this movie is bad and you're Mormon,' but they all respect that and I'm used to that," Anae said.
Anae describes her position as goalkeeper as "quarterback of the defense," where communication is key, and she hopes she's earned the respect of her teammates in and out of the pool.
Krikorian says Anae's teammates have confidence in her.
"When you're the last line of defense in that position as a goalie or goalkeeper, many times all eyes are on you and your teammates always look to you and rely on you to provide a sense of security and a sense of confidence, and with those traits and characteristics that I saw from Tumua, I automatically knew she was going to provide great leadership for our team," Krikorian said.
He said he couldn't be more thrilled to have her as a part of Team USA as they move foward, and Anae is thrilled to be along for the ride.
"It's exciting to be able to say you're representing the Unites States of America, and to be able to hear the national anthem played before every game is something that none of us, I know on the team at least and myself, don't take lightly," Anae said. "It's an honor."