Photo Courtesy: Olivia McKelvey
By Olivia McKelvey, Swimming World College Intern.
Beet-red faces bursting with exhaustion are scattered from lane to lane as swimmers huff and puff, desperate for oxygen and recovery. As the set winds down, look more closely at these faces. You will see the fatigued Brazilian somehow maintaining composure in lane three, the eager Colombian ready for more in lane six, or perhaps the Venezuelan in lane nine who still seems to have no idea what the set was. Regardless, all of these teammates share one commonality: being an international athlete in an American arena.
The NCAA and Globalization
Private or public, tech school or liberal arts school, Division I or Division III: the status quo nowadays seems to be having a spark of unique cultures within college swimming. The options in regards of obtaining swimmers from lands far and beyond stems from a massive recruiting pool that spans across the Pacific and nations’ capitals. According to the NCAA, there are over 17,000 international student-athletes enrolled and competing at all established NCAA schools. A new wave of immigration has reached the U.S., and the thirst for a prestige education in combination with the opportunity to compete at an elite level is what has been so appealing to those overseas.
With the influx of international student-athletes, a few questions arise regarding team dynamics. How does it affect teams as a whole? What does the presence of unfamiliar heritage on American soil mean for college swimmers?
Florida Tech or Foreign Tech?
Labeled as the most internationally diverse undergraduate student body in the nation, Florida Institute of Technology is one of many examples where college swimming exemplifies the melting pot of cultures contributing to the development of fitter and faster teams. Florida Tech’s men’s and women’s swim team is fortunate enough to have the countries of Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Israel, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Croatia, Grenada, and Jamaica all proudly represented.
Head coach David Dent sheds some light on how the interactions among his teammates have forged into nothing but a positive environment where swimmers have flourished:
They bring a different dynamic to the team. Each and every international swimmer who has been apart of our program has truly defined the statement of team means family. I have never seen a group of young individuals like these ladies and gentlemen that are so different and come from so many diverse backgrounds, yet they all work and communicate in this beautiful harmony to laugh together, to suffer together, to win and lose together; it’s quite amazing.
Thousands of Miles Away from Home
Stepping foot onto college turf is just as challenging – if not more so – for international student-athletes. Between adjusting to a new time zone to getting all the correct paperwork approved and being extremely far away from home, being a student-athlete abroad is no walk in the park.
“I remember my first year at FIT. I came here scared and not confident in my English-speaking capabilities, so I barely interacted with anyone for the first week of school. Three years later, and here I am on this incredible team made up of forty-nine individuals who I’m proud to call my brothers and sisters: mis hermanos y mis hermanas,” says Colombian and senior swimmer Valentina Carvajal.
What FIT specifically preaches is that a group of eclectic nationalities is part of what makes their team; however, it is not what defines their success. Imagine the moment before any swimmer steps onto the block. For a Florida Tech Panther, that means stretching the crimson and grey cap over their ears, looking up to see their fellow teammates screaming and hollering at the end of their lane, and then diving into the water knowing that right now, they’re swimming for the panthers: not Grenada or Croatia nor the Netherlands. They’re swimming for their new home – their new team. They’re swimming for Florida Tech.
“It doesn’t matter where we are from. Some of my teammates are from all over the world, some of them are from different regions of the U.S., and some of them are even right here from Florida. Regardless, we all come together to support each other through our best and our worst, and that’s what really matters at the end of the day,” commented Yohann Emmert, Swiss native and captain of Florida Tech’s swim team.
Looking forward, it can be expected to see a steady inflow of immigrants leaping into all Division’s of college swimming. The diversity cultivated from international student-athletes has done nothing more than strengthen programs and expose swimmers to new cultures. Good luck, buena suerte, bonne chance, and buona fortuna to all college swimmers as their seasons commence and the intertwining of personalities, languages, and ethnicities make for elite and unstoppable forces.
All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.