Sand to Snow

An International Swimming Career

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BY: KARI HAAVERSEN, kari.haaversen@go.mnstate.edu

Imagine: it’s 5:30 in the morning, and you hear your alarm go off. You get bundled up in your winter coat and any other layers you can find, you walk through the few fresh inches of snow that fell that night and jump into an ice cold pool to start your day. This is a normal morning for Leticia Esteves Rodovalho.

From the sandy beaches of Brazil to the snowy sidewalks of Moorhead, this student athlete made the switch to continue her dream.

Starting Young

Rodovalho has been swimming ever since she can remember.

Her parents signed her up for the local Brazilian swim club, Gran Sao Joao, at the age of six. While many newcomers take a bit to learn the basics of swimming, these skills came naturally and quickly to Rodovalho. Within two short years, she went from learning how to float to her first official swim competition. At age eight, she began competing for Gran Sao Joao with the younger division of fellow swimmers. You could find her competing any race that involved the butterfly stroke, which became her favorite.

She continued to train and compete with Gran Sao Joao for 10 years. Graduating high school early, Rodovalho was able to devote more of her time to the sport she loved. For her, 10 years as a competitive swimmer just wasn’t enough, so she started researching university teams. She always knew that attending a college in the United States was in her plans, but she never thought she would be drawn to a little town in the Midwest. She started putting her name on recruiting sites. Within weeks, Rodovalho received a message from MSUM, asking her to join the Dragons.

She looked further into the degrees offered, the team dynamic and tuition costs. Everything sounded perfect. Rodovalho signed her letter of commitment and prepared to move across the world.

Making the Move

With suitcases in hand, Rodovalho arrived at the airport in August of 2016, not knowing what was ahead of her. She had packed up her things, said goodbye to her parents and prepared to travel over 9,000 miles to her new life.

“It was scary,” she said. “I had no idea what I was going to experience. I didn’t know anyone, and my English was pretty rough. If I started speaking Portuguese, people wouldn’t be able to understand me.”

But to her surprise, she was welcomed with open arms by her coaches and new teammates.

“Everyone was so nice and made sure I was comfortable because they knew I was scared,” she said.

She moved into Dahl Hall, took a tour of campus and got ready for American life.

Adapting to Change

“The weather!” Rodovalho said. “The weather is so much colder here! I knew Minnesota was cold, but I never thought it could actually hurt your face.”

While it’s taken some adjusting to the cold, she has enjoyed the different seasons. In Brazil, it is summer year-round. Moorhead experiences four seasons, which was a new concept for her. She will never forget seeing her first snowfall and making her first snowman. This was thrilling for her, at first, until she remembered you don’t need a winter jacket in Brazil.

“My teammates all gave me old jackets, winter boots, mittens, hats and whatever else I needed because I obviously had none. We don’t need them in Brazil,” she said. “It really meant a lot to me. It made me feel like I really fit in with this team.”

Within her first swim season with the Dragons, she noticed many differences in the sport. On her club team in Brazil, the atmosphere was much more individually based, while in America, the teams actually seemed like teams. She noticed a lot more cheering during races, which she wasn’t used to back home.

“In Brazil, races are a lot more individual,” she said. “You basically just focused on yourself and improving your own times. At MSUM, it’s more of a group effort and even if you don’t do as well as you hoped, your team is still there cheering you up.”

Life-Changing Experience

“Best decision I ever made,” Rodovalho said.

With three collegiate swim seasons under her belt, Rodovalho has one left. She has beaten her own personal records time and time again. Her favorite college races are still anything butterfly. While much of her life has changed, some things have stayed the same.

“I still love swimming as much as I did when I first started,” she said. “I can’t believe I only have one more year. It’s been tough, but I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything in the world.”

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