Iyana Chong is excited to show her parents around the area.
She’s excited to show them the great food the area has to offer.
But more than anything, she’s excited to show her parents how much she’s grown.
Chong is a sophomore on the Little Flower High School swimming team, and this weekend, she’ll see her parents for the first time in more than a year.
Chong’s parents live in Hong Kong. She lived there, too, until she moved into her cousin’s place in Port Richmond so she could go to school in the United States.
The family is here for a family wedding. And since they haven’t seen their daughter since she arrived here in the summer of 2021, they’re seeing a completely new daughter.
“I just can’t wait to show them how much I’ve grown, and show them how much more independent I am,” said Chong, an only child who talks to her parents a few times every week. “I take care of myself. My cousin takes good care of me, I live with her and her boyfriend, but I’m able to take care of myself. You grow up quickly when you’re away from home.”
It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been quite rewarding.
Chong came to Philly for an opportunity at a better education. She’s getting that at Little Flower, and she’s also doing great things for the swimming team.
She’s learning and growing, and while it hasn’t always been easy for her, she very much appreciates the opportunities she’s been given.
“My parents sacrificed a lot to get me able to come over here, and I know it’s not easy, but it means so much to me,” Chong said. “I am really thankful to my parents, it’s a lot of money to let me come here to study and I think their sacrifice helps. I want to thank them. I want them to know I’m thankful for everything they did for me. It’s hard, but it’s good.”
It’s going really good at Little Flower on the swimming team.
Chong has become a much better swimmer since getting to Little Flower, although she’s been swimming her entire life. But being a Sentinel has helped her become more confident and it’s made her much more outgoing.
According to coach Sean Clothier, Chong is one of the funniest members of the team, and she’s quite popular among her teammates.
He loves what she brings to the team as a person. He also loves what she brings to the team as a swimmer.
“She brings an unbridled work ethic to the team that automatically makes her a leader, even as a sophomore,” Clothier said. “As she has become more at home over here, her personality really has come out and she is universally liked and respected by her teammates and her coach. Even with her talent, she could take some nights off, but she’s there, every single night, working her butt off, even through a nagging injury this year that would have put most swimmers on the sidelines.
“She’s just tough. She fights through it as best she can and always gives her best effort. I never have to worry about her not putting the work in. It’s automatic with her.
“Talentwise, she is one of the most gifted in the league. Combine that with her blue-collar-by-way-of-Hong-Kong work ethic and it’s a recipe for success now and in the future.”
In the pool, Chong’s best race is the backstroke, but she’s also capable of swimming freestyle and has done the individual medley in the past.
She’s capable of swimming any event, but she continues to post great numbers in the backstroke. She could end up making some noise at the Catholic League championship, as well as districts and, potentially, states.
“I started swimming when I was a kid, 3 or 4, and it’s all muscle memory for me,” Chong said. “What are my tips? I can’t answer that question because I really don’t know. I guess practice more. I think the saying practice makes perfect is right.
“It’s different when I swam back home, the pool in Hong Kong is a 50-yard pool. Here it’s a 25-yard pool. You watch the Olympics, they use a 50-yard pool. You do turns here. I would say that makes it more challenging. Every time I do a flip turn, it’s hard for me, but I’m getting better.”
It helps that she’s having fun while putting in all the work.
“I love our team, we aren’t a big team, but every girl is so nice to me,” Chong said. “I didn’t have a lot of friends when I got here because I didn’t know anyone, but a lot of girls were really helpful. Everyone is so supporting, they love to chatter, we are close.”
She hopes she can reward her team with some better times going forward, but she’s already given Little Flower a lot.
She hopes to give her parents something to cheer for while they’re visiting.
“They’re going to be able to go to the All-Catholic meet (Feb. 24-25 at La Salle University), so they’ll see what I’m doing,” Chong said. “I’m very happy they’re coming. I didn’t go home last summer because Hong Kong is very strict with the pandemic, so I’m really happy they’re coming here. I can’t wait.” ••