Love In The Air
Nov. 21, 2007
by Jeff Smith
Adam Soldati knew he found someone special when he first met Kimiko Hirai. A quick-learning diver who was looking to transfer to a school with hopes of continuing his passion, Soldati went from California to Indiana University's diving camp 13 years ago and ended up meeting his future wife. Hirai was in Bloomington training under Hoosier diving coach Dr. Jeff Huber and opted to help out as a counselor for his camp. The night before camp ended, Soldati's spirits were low, but Hirai was there to help.
Just like she has been for the last seven years of marriage.
"We met each other at camp, but I was going there to see if I wanted to go to Indiana University," Soldati said. "Kimiko spoke to me for two or three hours the night before camp ended. Even back then she could bring out the best in a person because I didn't know if I was good enough to go to IU."
He was, and as it turns out, now he had even more reason to become a Hoosier.
"I went home specifically because of that conversation and called Huber," Soldati said. "I told him if I can walk-on, I'm driving out right now."
Huber welcomed the walk-on, while Soldati welcomed the chance to get to know Hirai, who also decided to transfer to Indiana from Colorado State. As Soldati admits, it didn't take long to learn some things about her.
"I quickly learned she was much better than I was," he said.
For what its worth, Hirai was much better than anyone those days.
She was Indiana's 1996 Female Athlete of the Year, a GTE Academic All-American, registered a perfect 4.0 grade-point average in obtaining both her bachelor's and Masters degree. She was chosen as her school's valedictorian in 1997 and would later go on to become a two-time U.S. Diver of the Year, national champion and Olympian.
But the two began dating at Indiana and following their graduations in 1997, Huber invited to Soldati to join the staff as assistant coach while Hirai remained on campus to train for the Olympics.
Fresh out of college, Hirai earned her spot on the 1998 U.S. National Team and became the first female in U.S. Diving history to qualify for finals in all five events at the National Championships. Two years later, Hirai married Soldati and the newlyweds moved to Texas to train with Olympic coach Kenny Armstrong.
"Huber took us a long way and taught us a lot of fundamentals, but we both felt we reached the highest level we could at Indiana," Adam Soldati said. "We then went to Kenny where he soon became the most influential person in my coaching career. There is no question I am the coach I am today because of the mentors I have had."
During that time, Kimiko Soldati became a member of the U.S. Diving Team and competed in the 2004 Olympics.
After successful stints with Armstrong, the Soldatis moved back to the Midwest to take over the Boilermaker diving program. It was a packaged deal, with Adam hired as the head coach and Kimiko named as volunteer assistant coach.
"Adam and I have one of the most unique coaching situations in college sports," Kimiko said. "He's the head coach but by being an Olympic athlete, I know the struggles and the obstacles a lot of our kids face."
Both Adam and Kimiko oversee the men's and women's diving teams at Purdue, although Kimiko does not see the "on deck" time she used to as the couple gave birth to son Blake in 2005. While she is not at the pool each day, Adam still points out how valuable of a coach - and person - she is to him.
"She works with both teams and have unique relationships with both men and women," Adam said. "I call her our resident sports psychologist. As a woman, she understands the struggles and difficulties that females in this sport have. When she's on the deck, she can tell when people are have a tough time with things. She jumps right in and bonds with them individually."
Having his wife on staff, a person and coach whom he can trust, has proved to be very beneficial for the Boilermaker head coach who is in his third year in West Lafayette. When working with both the men's and women's programs, Soldati has to focus more time on a particular squad or certain individuals in a given week.
Currently, the Purdue men have three quality divers returning from impressive freshman campaigns. Danny Cox, J.P. Perez and Kyle Mitrione all scored at the Big Ten Championships last season and are each fighting to become the first Purdue men's diver ever to win a conference title - something that all other schools in the Big Ten have accomplished.
In addition, both Adam and Kimiko are busy mentoring former Boiler Amanda Miller and Indiana's Christina Loukas as they continue to train for synchronized diving competition for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
A busy schedule at the pool can often lead to Adam taking his work home, but it is something that Kimiko does not mind. She knows the roles were somewhat reversed when she was training.
"Diving is a passion of both of ours," she said. "(Him talking about work) is not something I dread or am bitter about. It's nice to speak the same language. When I was training, it was huge to have someone close that spoke the same language."
This time around, now that Blake is involved, Adam points to his wife as the one who has done a "good job of balancing it out for the both of them."
"Our family is definitely number one for us," he said. "When I come home, I leave (work) at the door. I'll play with the kid and have dinner, and when things wind down, that's when we sometimes will talk about work."
Soldati admits empathy and communication are two things that his wife has helped him understand and improve on throughout the years. He says primarily because it's what she does so well and the proof is in the practices when she is around the student-athletes.
The championship philosophy that Soldati has brought to West Lafayette is simple. He is not going to make you a champion, but he is going to provide you the environment to become one.
"My wife is a huge part in helping create that environment too," he said. "I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for her."
Looking ahead to family life with Blake, Kimiko notes that they plan on encouraging the little one to become involved in golf or tennis, although Adam admits Blake has already taken his first dive.
"I'm up on the 1-meter and next thing I know, he gets up there and is standing next to me," he said. "Mom is down in the water and he's asking me if he can jump. He did."
The first dive left mom speechless too.
"I don't know if it's in his genes or he's just a junky," she said.
Maybe he's just a Soldati.
And it was meant to be.