Machika Kaku dives into successful pair of seasons

Ian Tanaya Apr 27, 2015

If you’ve kept up with The Tartan, you may have noticed that this semester has featured quite a large number of athlete profiles. These profiles delve into how the student athletes at Carnegie Mellon have been able to survive the academic rigors we all share while devoting a considerable amount of time into something they have a passion for. While that passion doesn’t have to be a sport, these young men and women lead balanced, complete lives, and sophomore diver Machika Kaku is no exception. She, like all the athletes who have been featured over the course of this semester, exemplifies what it means to be a Tartan: being able to handle a demanding workload without sacrificing the things that bring enjoyment to life.

In Kaku’s case, sports have been that part of her life that balances out everything else. “I’ve been active since I could walk,” the biology and creative writing double major said. Growing up in Irvine, California, Kaku spent a lot of time roller blading, surfing, and rock climbing recreationally. When she eventually moved toward team sports, she initially gravitated toward gymnastics. She soon discovered aspects of the sport she liked, such as the team spirit and unity, and those that she did not, such as the level of competitiveness and rates of injury, leading her to choose diving. “Water is a lot more forgiving than a concrete floor,” Kaku said.

Although Kaku was the only diver on her high school’s swimming and diving team, she felt like part of a family with the swimmers. She attributes this welcome to the school’s pride in swimming; the team often won their state championships. This type of group environment was something she sought from college programs as she prepared to search for her home after high school. Between Carnegie Mellon and a local Division II school, she chose the former to focus more on academics and to begin an adventure away from home.

At Carnegie Mellon, Kaku hoped to see as cohesive a team as she had come to expect from her previous years. “I made it a point to get to know the swimmers.”

She was not disappointed. Kaku arrived at a time where the swimmers and divers thought of themselves as one team. “Apparently before, they never spoke to each other. I was glad that they were now a team,” she said.

During her first year with the team, Kaku managed to make it to the regional level of competition, though she was the only member of the team who had achieved the minimum score to do so. “I was so nervous; I did really badly,” she said. This year, however, Kaku managed to finish in fourth place in the regional competition, making it to the national competition. She credited the two teammates who made it with her to regionals for giving her the sense of camaraderie she needed to do her best. “I felt comfortable with my teammates around,” she said.

She was excited to make nationals, especially considering she almost wasn’t allowed to participate in the regional competition. “I had a concussion before regionals,” she said. She was only cleared to return to practice shortly before the regional competition began. For her, being able to make the most out of her opportunity to play made the victory one of her proudest accomplishments. With Carnegie Mellon hosting regionals next year, meaning that the team won’t have to travel to New York as they have in previous years, Kaku believes she and the team can do even better.

In the meantime, Kaku will be continuing research at the Minden Lab in Mellon Institute. She is currently trying to find protein bio-markers that causes those with rheumatoid arthritis to develop Interstitial Lung Disease.

Whether she’s devoting time to her sport, working in the research lab, or hanging out and enjoying a good time, Kaku represents someone who has defined being a Tartan in her own way.