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Men’s Swimming: Freshman Nel travels from South Africa to join Notre Dame

Matthew Robison | Thursday, February 10, 2011

Before freshman Bertie Nel could spend his days swimming mile upon mile in the Rolfs Aquatic Center, he had to make an 8000-mile journey just to get to campus. The Tzaneen, South Africa, native decided to take the challenge of living, learning, and swimming in America head on.

Nel admits that coming to the U.S. has not been easy, but it has been worth the effort.

“I have always heard that everything is bigger and better in America, and that is true,” Nel said. “Everything was done on a much bigger scale here, and it was rather overwhelming, but a lot of fun.”

Most freshmen have trouble balancing schoolwork and socializing, adapting to living on their own, and learning the ins and outs of the college experience. Nel had to do so with limited knowledge of the English language and without the luxury of a short trip home.

“I grew up in South Africa with Afrikaans as my mother tongue,” Nel said. “I have had English classes since the fourth grade, but never as intensive as here in America.”

On top of adapting to a new language and a new educational system, Nel’s had the challenge of competing in one of the toughest collegiate swimming conferences. But it is also an opportunity for which he is grateful.

“Swimming is completely different than back in South Africa,” Nel said. “I absolutely love the team camaraderie and spirit, and training was harder than I ever expected it to be.”

Although there have been challenges, Nel has not had to go them alone. He has had the support of his teammates, coaches, and classmates the entire time. He has not seen his parents since freshmen orientation, but he has new family here.

“I am thankful for two great families on campus, my fellow teammates and Stanford Hall Griffins who are always there for me,” Nel said.

Nel came to the U.S. with a plan in mind. He wants to turn himself into an elite swimmer and compete on the international stage.

“With the help of my coaches and fellow teammates, I hope to swim the fastest that I have ever been,” Nel said.

Nel has been a contributing factor on the Irish squad. He helped Notre Dame to victories in the 800-yard free relay and the 400-yard backstroke relay in the Dennis Stark Relays Oct. 8 in the Rolfs Aquatic Center. He finished fourth in the 400-yard IM in the Hawkeye Invitational Dec. 4 and finished second in the 400-yard backstroke against Utah Nov. 12.

Overall, Nel is just glad to be part of the tradition at Notre Dame. He has embraced all there is to offer and appreciates everything that people have done for him here.

“Being part of the Notre Dame swimming team is an amazing honor,” he said. “They are all a great group of gentlemen and it’s been an honor training and building relationships with them this past season.”

Although Big East championships and NCAA competitions are on his mind, Nel said the pinnacle of his swimming career would be representing his home country in either the 2012 or 2016 Olympic Games.

“It is a dream I have always had,” Nel said. “I know that I can reach that goal here at Notre Dame.”

Up next for the Irish are the Big East Diving Championships Feb. 11-13 and the Big East swimming championships Feb. 16-19 in Louisville, Ky.