The world record holder in the 200-meter individual medley swims about 5 miles every day, training in Jacksonville, Fla., for the Olympics. That doesn’t leave time for Ariana Kukors to have her own dog, but dogs have connected her to the most influential people in her life: her older sister Emily, who swam for Auburn University, and her younger sister Mattie, who swims for Arizona State University.
“We grew up with a Husky mix named Jessica that my parents rescued as a puppy,” Kukors says. “She was probably already 7 or 8 years old by the time I was born. She was protective over my sisters and me, and my parents absolutely adored her.”
Kukors vividly remembers the time the family went on vacation to a place unsuitable for dogs. “We put her in a boarding kennel, but she dug her way out and ran away,” Kukors says. “As soon as we heard, we cut our vacation short and came home. We found her just a few blocks from our house. She’d made it almost all the way back home. As soon as she heard my mom’s voice, she came bounding out of the woods. We never boarded her again.”
After Jessica passed away, the family took in a series of strays. Then Sierra joined the family, a gift for younger sister Mattie’s 7th birthday. “Sierra is a Border Collie-Lab mix, and she became such an important part of our family right away,” Kukors says. “She fit right in. She’s still with us, and she must be 12 or 13 by now. We all love her so much.”
Kukors recalls how the three girls made a chart to keep track of who would pick up after Sierra, who would feed her, and who would walk her. “That lasted for about a week,” she says. “Then my mom ended up doing everything.” Kukors’ mother, Jaapje Kukors, a triathlete, took Sierra running every morning near their home in Auburn, Wash. Sierra has also loved the Pacific Northwest winters. “We live at the top of the hill, and we would all get in the sleigh and ride down the hill,” Kukors says. “She would take off and race us to the bottom. She just loved the snow.”
Today, Kukors’ obsession is her sister Emily’s new 1-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever, Buck. Whenever Kukors visits her sister, she can’t stop taking pictures of Buck. “Buck lying in the sun, Buck carrying a stick, Buck cuddling with us on the floor. He’s just so adorable,” Kukors says. “He’s the most beautiful dog, with the perfect Labrador Retriever features.”
Kukors can’t wait until she has the time for her own dog, but she plans to hold off until after the Olympics. “I’d like to rescue a dog, but I’m still figuring exactly what to look for,” she says. “I want a dog that doesn’t bark too much, that likes to hang around, that’s fun and playful. I’m low maintenance, so I want my dog to be low maintenance, too.”
No matter what she decides, Kukors knows she’ll have her own dog eventually. “Dogs have always been a part of my life,” she says. “It’s just the way of our family.”