Profile: Eleanor Octavio


By Emma Pearson

There’s more than a little extra community at the Mill Valley Community Center on days in which Tamalpais High School senior Eleanor Octavio leads Southern Marin Aquatics (SOMA)’s lessons. Octavio is program coordinator for SOMA, an organization that provides free swim lessons for children in the community who may not otherwise have access. It is her job to coordinate availability with local pools in which SOMA can host lessons, organize groups based on the young swimmers’ skill levels (testing newcomers every week), while also recruiting, training, and managing SOMA’s team of instructors. 

On this particular, rainy Sunday late-afternoon, Octavio gathers her fellow instructors, a group of about fifteen other high school-age volunteers, in a small circle beside the pool’s unused waterslide and explains which kids they will be working with and who the instructors-in-training will be shadowing. Although the information is routine, her leadership, and the shared enthusiasm of all those gathered in the circle of SOMA instructors gives her words a weight of excitement. The instructors follow suit as she connects them with arriving children, who soften at Octavio’s friendly greeting, becoming slightly more inclined to take the plunge into the pool. After she handles the instructor coordination side of her duties, Octavio enters the pool herself to teach two very different skills in the same single swim lesson; the ability to swim for the young learner, and the ability to teach swimming to the shadowing instructor who observes her in the pool. From what goes on behind the scenes to what Octavio’s position consists of from a poolside view, it is clear that program coordinator is no small job.

Also, a job that she might never have seen herself doing three short years ago, “I feel that now I can say this, but when I was a freshman I was very nervous to go outside my boundaries and everything, very ‘stick with my friends, stick with what I know, stick with what they’re doing,’ but, when I was a sophomore and isolated from everyone, I really discovered what I wanted to do personally,” Octavio said.

Octavio describes the passion she discovered during the pandemic as “stuff involving swimming in my community.” It is true, Octavio is a member of the Tam girls varsity water polo team, captain of the Tam girls varsity swim team, President of Make A Splash club at Tam (which funds swim programs for those who don’t have access), and, of course, holds her leading role at SOMA.

The water is Octavio’s second home, “I feel like it’s similar to running in that, once you learn how, you can do it forever,” Octavio said, “It’s just been such a big part of my life for so long and it’s my family and it’s what I love doing.”

She has been swimming since age two and competitively since age seven, and passing that skill on, whether that be through her club or during a SOMA session, is where Octavio’s love for both the pool and people really shines.

“To be honest I feel like it’s not like because I am a person that has had access to swim lessons, to food, or to x, y, z, and it’s not about oh, I can give to someone else, it’s more about meeting people who have all these different experiences and just learning about them and who they are and just building a community that’s not just within a certain group of people, and not separated by superficial boundaries like lack of financial resources,” Octavio said.

Octavio finds community in SOMA both with the kids she instructs, as well as their instructors, of whom she described as “ curious,” “very driven,” and “indescribably caring”.

“I just really love them all, and I respect them. For me, it’s not [that] you have to teach it the exact same way that I teach it, I see them teaching the kids in a way that I’ve never done before and then I implement that when I teach,” Octavio said.

Her experience is not uncommon, “It’s just really fun to work with SOMA and work with the kids, it’s just a really cool experience,” SOMA coworker and Redwood Sophomore Annabelle Kilgore said. 

Octavio’s love for her instructor team and students was more than mutual when visiting SOMA. Kilgore confirmed, “Eleanor clearly has a heart of gold. She does all of this for fun. She knows all the kids really personally and they all love her.”

According to Octavio, what makes the instructors at SOMA so great is, “Whenever there’s any need, in the pool, out of the pool, as a leader, whatever it is, they’re there for me, and for the kids.”

Taking immediate action when an issue presents itself is a positive of SOMA within Marin’s community in Octavios eyes.

“I think the Marin community is very accepting in that they want to make a change, but nothing ever happens. They just agree that they want to make a change, but I think with the SOMA community, it’s like: there is a need, and we will provide for it. It’s not just like we want to make a difference, it’s just, we are making a difference,” Octavio said.

Providing opportunities and taking action to combat issues she sees inside and outside of the Marin community, whether that be a lack of access and diversity on her swim teams growing up to issues of environmental justice, is a common theme for Octavio. Other than her aquatic activities, she is a Tam Link Leader, president of the Interact Club at Tam (a community service and leadership club), director of Food Picked with Love (a nonprofit organization founded by Tam sophomore Audrey Lowell that donates food to local food banks), and interns at the Audubon Society (who works with local and state government officials to enact environmentally friendly, equal-access laws, advocating both within the Marin community and advocating for those outside of it).

Although Octavio’s extroverted personality that helps her to fulfill her passions for community service contributes in many areas of her life, SOMA will always hold a special place in her heart, “I love meeting new people of course, and expanding on my community, but I love my SOMA people,” Octavio said, “Leading SOMA is honestly my biggest accomplishment, and probably will be my biggest accomplishment even when I don’t run it anymore.”