Riley Pearson: Washington’s four-sport athlete

Images provided by Riley Pearson.

Washington senior Riley Pearson is a varsity swim captain, varsity cross country runner, drum major, and mountain biker. Pearson is also a leader to younger students, all while managing his school work.

His interest in swimming began when he was five. His parents put him on a summer swim team, and he has enjoyed it ever since, because of the challenges and competitive aspects of it. He has been on Washington’s swim team all four years, being on the JV team freshman and sophomore year and varsity in junior and senior year. Now, as a senior, he is also the captain of the swim team. Scott Harvey, Washington’s swim coach, says that “Riley has been an excellent team captain—he sets a great example for others to follow at practice; he is always energetic and enthusiastic and brings a smile to everyone’s face.” He continues by saying, “I have seen Riley evolve from an enthusiastic freshman who was new to the high school swim scene to a seasoned veteran as a senior this year on the team.”

Pearson swimming from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge in 2021

Pearson swimming from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge in 2021.

Pearson (right) running at a Cross Country competition in 2021.

Pearson has been on Washington’s cross country team throughout his high school career as well. Like swimming, his love for running began at a young age. In elementary school, his dad would take him and his brother out for runs before school, and he has been serious about it ever since. He was on the JV team freshman and sophomore year and varsity junior and senior year. His teammate, senior Rathang Pandit, says “I always have fun hanging out with him. Many younger athletes admire him for his determination and generally seek advice from him.” Pandit and Pearson have been on the team together since they were freshmen and have grown as athletes over the years. Pandit reflects: “We’ve been doing cross country together since freshman year, and he has progressed incredibly. He is very ambitious and always motivates the rest of us. He brings life to the team.” 

Apart from being a swimmer and runner, Pearson is also a mountain biker. When he was little, his dad would take him and his brother on bike rides around the East Bay regional parks. Eventually, they started going uphill and on trails. “The main reason I’ve been doing cross country and swim in high school is to train for triathlons,” he explains. He has been participating in triathlons since he was 6: “I treat cross country and swim as their own thing, and I use mountain biking as cross training.” The biggest race he’s participated in is the Santa Cruz Triathlon in 2018, 2019, and 2021. He plans on continuing this into his adult life, for as long as he can. “It’s something that you do on your own, a goal that you can set and work on for yourself, regardless of where you are in your life,” he says. This summer, he is participating in a Half Ironman in Oregon, which consists of a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike, and a 13.1 mile run. He also plans on joining the swim team at Ohlone, whilst continuing his training for triathlons.

Pearson biking at the El Corte de Madera creek trial.

Pearson leads Washington’s marching band at the Foothill Band Review in 2021.

Finally, Pearson is also the drum major for Washington’s marching band. He auditioned in his freshman year because he thought “it was cool” and would be something fun to try. “Freshman year, there were after school practices where the upper class drum majors would demonstrate conducting, baton spins, and drills,” he says. After passing an audition that tested his skills, Pearson had to pass an interview that determined if he had the qualities to handle a crowd, and represent the entire band. Pearson explains that “anyone can learn how to spin a baton, but not just anyone has the leadership to be a drum major.”

“I don’t feel like it takes away from my other priorities, because it is my priority.”

Pearson finds that being an athlete is a good outlet for him. For a lot of people, playing sports acts as not only a physical activity, but also a form of self-care to maintain good mental health. During his junior year over distance learning, he didn’t know what to do with himself. When the swim season started up again, it improved his mental state a lot. “It’s the social aspect of it—the interactions,” he says. Being with his teammates and engaging in an activity that he loves helps him maintain a positive mindset.

A lot of student athletes have to find ways to manage their time between their activities and school work. It can be hard to juggle the two, keeping up with their physicality as well as maintaining good grades. Pearson finds that creating a balance comes easier to him because of how much of a fixed routine it has become. “With swim and cross country, it was just built into my day after school,” he explains. He doesn’t feel like sports interferes with his school work, because he finds it fun. “I don’t feel like it takes away from my other priorities, because it is my priority.” Being an athlete isn’t always easy, but having a goal to work towards keeps him determined; Pearson says that it’s always helpful to sign up for a 5k or 10k in order to set goals for himself. He explains that athleticism is “a test of your dedication to your goals—you can be naturally talented at something, but you’ll never be truly competitive unless you work for it.” 

About the author

Harini Sivakumar is a senior at Washington High School. She was born in Chennai, India and moved to the Bay Area when she was four. This is her first year at the Hatchet, and she is interested in biomedicine, forensics, and issues regarding HIPAA compliance. Her hobbies include playing with her dogs and watching anime. She hopes to study optics in college, and lead a career in ophthalmology and visionary science research in the future.

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