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NCAA Swimmers Take Academics, Athletics Abroad

Two scholar athletes from Saint Louis University’s NCAA Division I swim team, Mary First and Olivia Wanasek, continued their training this summer at Real Canoe N.C., one of Spain’s top training centers for competitive swimmers.

Unlike many NCAA Division I athletes who are unable to study abroad, Mary and Olivia met both their athletic and academic commitments by taking advantage of the University’s partnership with the club. Real Canoe N.C afforded them not only the continual skill training that they require as a Division I athletes, but also fostered their understanding of the Spanish language and culture.

Division I scholar athletes train at Real Canoe C.N. while studying abroad in Madrid.

While NCAA Division I swimmers Mary First and Olivia Wanasek studied abroad in Madrid, they continued their high level training at Real Canoe C. N., one of Spain's most competitive training centers for water sports. 

“It was an adjustment to have to understand our workouts in Spanish, but all the swimmers and coaches on the team are so friendly and helpful, which made it easier,” confessed Mary, a junior who is majoring in neuroscience with a minor in Spanish. “It’s so fun to go to practice and see that Real Canoe does the same drills and workouts as we do in St. Louis.”

Olivia, a junior pursuing a degree in business with a minor in Spanish, admitted, “I had no idea what to expect going to a swim team in a completely different country, but after my first practice I realized that it is not too different from practicing in the U.S. The exercises and sets are very similar to those of my practices in St. Louis. The language barrier can be challenging at times, but it is the perfect way for me to learn and improve my Spanish.”

Real Canoe N.C. was founded in 1930 and has since been recognized as the top Olympic youth academy for water sports in Madrid. The facilities are located in the heart of Madrid near Retiro Park. Of the seven swimming pools at the club, four are covered year round and the other three are covered with a telescopic roof that easily caters to both Madrid's summer and winter climates.

Mary remarked that she is grateful to SLU-Madrid’s athletic director César Rioja for facilitating the collaboration with Real Canoe C. N. Wanasek added, “I am so happy I was able to continue my training while not only improving my Spanish, but also being completely immersed in the Spanish swimming culture and making a few friends along the way.”

The Athletic Department at SLU-Madrid strives to accommodate student athletes of all levels who train while pursuing their studies. Interested students may contact César Rioja directly at