Nine-year-old Luka Mijatovic is just like a lot of other elementary school kids. He plays soccer, he runs around with his friends, and he takes swim lessons at the Santa Clara Swim Club. But Luka has a very special gift.
“He’s fast, yeah. There’s no doubt about it,” said Mark Taliaferro, Luka’s swim coach.
“It was very clear to us early on that even though he had no clue how to properly ‘swim’ he was fast in the water,” said Lana Mijatovic, Luka’s mother. “He is a true fish. He’s a water baby. He just loves the water.”
On the weekend of March 15-17, Luka swam for seven gold medals in seven events at the Pacific Spring Junior Olympics. Luka swam in the 10 and under category, besting kids more than a year older than him.
“It was fun, it was good. It felt good. It felt really good,” said Luka. “I like difficult events and I like getting tired and the [500 free and 100 butterfly] are personally my two favorite events.”
Luka also swam in the team events at the Pacific Spring Junior Olympics. Winning seven medals at the meet means he will swim at the Far Western Championships in April, where he will face even tougher competition.
“I like to race. I like to compete against the fastest swimmers,” said Luka. “I like to keep swimming. I never get bored of swimming.”
A Campbell native, Luka started swimming at the Santa Clara Swim Club at the age of four.
“We just wanted him to be safe in the water,” said Lana Mijatovic. “That’s all. That’s how he started swimming.”
Within the year, Luka had moved up to the club program. By the next year, he was a Yellow Bell, the highest level in the program.
“Even at six, he made it into our highest level group which is not normal in and of itself,” said Coach Taliaferro. “Most of those kids are eight plus.”
Taliaferro says Luka is one of the fastest kids he’s ever coached, but he understands that a lot that can happen between now and college.
“Boys mature at different rates,” said Taliaferro. “Luka’s very, very big for a nine-year-old. You would never think that he’s nine. He’s as big as some of the 12 year olds on the team. I mean, he’s huge. Boys, they grow, anywhere between 11 and 13 they can grow.”
Whether he grows or not, Luka has athletic genes. Both of his parents played soccer. His mom also played volleyball. But Luka’s mom says none of this would have happened if it weren’t for Coach Taliaferro.
“Luka wouldn’t be swimming and he certainly wouldn’t be swimming at this level without his coach,” said Lana Mijatovic. “He’s an amazing coach and he has this outstanding ability to connect with kids and push them in a way where they are performing to their best abilities and having a great time doing it.”
So far it’s working for Luka.
“I want to be an Olympic swimmer. I want to go to Cal,” said Luka with his mom smiling behind him. She was also a Cal Bear.