Jaapje Kukors was by no means a “swimming mom” at first. But it didn’t take her long to get all wet with wonder.
Her three daughters became amazingly swift at parting the waters.
And now this humble matriarch behind one of Auburn’s great athletic families of Dutch heritage will be poolside this summer, urging on her powerful trio at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb.
All of which makes Jaapje one of the first, if not the only mom from the area who has sent multiple kids – and all at once – to an Olympic-caliber event.
In the year of the Summer Games, a Kukors has a shot at joining the red, white and blue wave in Beijing, China. Emily, 23, a senior at Alabama’s Auburn University, and Ariana, 18, a freshman at the University of Washington, are world-class contenders in the 200-meter individual medley. Little sister Mattie, 16, a junior at Auburn Mountainview High School, is getting her first taste of the trials.
“If I had one more (girl), I could have had a relay team,” she said with a laugh. “But that’s OK.”
Mom is glad to be going along for the ride.
“I am very proud of their success within themselves,” said Jaapje, 50, who works as a bookkeeper at Mountainview. “I love for them to win, but the more important thing is to see if they are satisfied with their performances.”
Swimming has been a major player in the Kukors household ever since the girls were old enough to tread water.
The original plan was to provide each one with swimming lessons at 3, but have them try different sports to avoid comparisons and sibling rivalries.
“But that didn’t work out that way, did it?” Jaapje said.
Jaapje, who grew up on a Lynden dairy farm, was an athlete herself. She didn’t have a swimming background, but soon became a quick study. She provided the necessary support and foundation for the girls to succeed. She didn’t aggressively push, but gently encouraged. The girls found their way.
The sport has provided many valuable lessons “of commitment and hard work, of graciously accepting disappointment and satisfaction.”From a mother’s perspective, it has been a moving and joyful experience for a lady who overcame two bouts with breast cancer. She continues to find strength through family and friends.
“I really enjoy the sport because I met so many wonderful people. It’s a very family-oriented sport,” she said.
Having followed her daughters’ highly decorated careers, Jaapje eventually came to the realization that she wanted to try the water herself. She took lessons seven years ago, and found it therapeutic, especially when going through radiation.
“I have a whole new appreciation for what they do,” she said.
Jaapje’s approach to motherhood is simple and straightforward. The results speak for themselves.
“My goal as a mom was if I could build self-esteem in my daughters and teach them how to read, they can accomplish anything in life they wanted,” she said.
“My goal is to have them each be as successful as THEY can be,” she added. “They all are so different, and I love how competitive they are with each other and yet very supportive. They are each other’s biggest fan.”
None bigger than mom.
Mark Klaas can be reached
at 253-833-0218, ext. 5050,