Freshman breaststroker Valeria Silva made up her mind a long time ago.
In her hometown of Lima, Peru, Silva had swum competitively since the age of 7. She dreamt of becoming one of the top swimmers in the world, but she soon realized her athletic career would end if she wanted to go to college. In Peru, college students don’t usually participate in sports, forcing many athletes to decide between academic or athletic careers.
So Silva set her hopes on a third option and was determined to reach her goal. She had to go to college in the United States, even if it meant leaving her family behind and moving to the other side of the world.
After winning breaststroke in the Junior South American Championships in 1999, she realized her dreams could become a reality.
“It was my major win at the time, and I wanted to keep improving in swimming to see what I could achieve,” Silva said.
Silva achieved quite a bit. She earned a spot on the 2004 Peruvian Olympic Team, first place in the 50-meter breaststroke at the 2004 Senior South American Championships, an opportunity to train in Australia and a scholarship to be on the Michigan women’s swimming team. Although she failed to medal in the 100-meter breaststroke in Athens, the Olympics proved to be a valuable endeavor.
“Going to the Olympics is every athlete’s dream, and I was very excited,” Silva said. “I didn’t swim as fast as I hoped, but the experience was still awesome.”
Now a member of the 15th-ranked Wolverines, Silva is swimming like a senior.
In just her first season, she has become one of the lead breaststrokers on the team, earning a spot on the ‘A’ medley relay. At the Indiana Invitational on Nov. 19 through 21, Silva placed fourth overall in the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 1:05.05 and ninth in the 200-yard breaststroke with a time of 2:21.42.
“It’s been a joy to have Silva on the team,” coach Jim Richardson said. “She focuses very well and she’s doing a great job both as a competitor and a student.”
Speed is not the only quality Richardson looks for in his swimmers. He searches for team-oriented and determined individuals, as well. Richardson said that during recruitment, Silva’s athletic performance and academic standing showed she was a perfect fit for the team.
“The most important thing to do is to find people who belong at Michigan both academically and athletically,” Richardson said. “You want to bring people in who take advantage of opportunities.”
Silva also had an invitation to train in Australia in preparation for the 2004 Olympics. After coming to an agreement with the Michigan coaching staff, she jumped at that opportunity, taking a year to train “down-under” before beginning her collegiate career “up-north.” The additional training improved her abilities and made her even more valuable to the Wolverines.
“I think it was a good move on her part and a good move for us too,” Richardson said.
The team is currently in its toughest training period of the season. Though Silva has trained on four continents, it’s her teammates, not her experience, that have helped her through the practices.
“I like the team atmosphere we have,” Silva said. “My teammates help me cope with the difficult training.”
Along with the training, Silva has had to adjust to swimming in yards instead of meters. Since a 25-yard pool is shorter than a 25-meter pool, she had to recalibrate her turns and stroke counts into the wall. The climate change has also taken its effect. As Michigan enters the winter season, Peru is about to start summer.
But for Silva, not seeing her family has been the most difficult adjustment.
“My family’s support has helped me a lot,” Silva said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without my family.”
Her goal this season is to qualify for the NCAA Championships in the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke. For the next four years, Silva hopes to return to the Olympics in 2008 –– this time to take home a medal. Judging by the way Silva has met her previous goals, it’s a good bet she won’t be disappointed.