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Athletics and Academics Abroad

by Katherine Gortz on 06/21/2019

Unlike many NCAA Division I scholar athletes whose training commitments preclude them from studying abroad, competitive swimmers and volleyball players from Saint Louis University and Xavier University are meeting their academic and athletic commitments as visiting students at SLU-Madrid this summer.

Ten swimmers from Xavier and two from SLU are taking advantage of SLU-Madrid’s partnership with Real Canoe C.N., one of Spain’s top training centers for competitive swimmers. In addition to pool workouts, the swimmers, as well as the SLU volleyball players, have availed themselves of agreements that SLU-Madrid has with gyms near campus for short-term memberships.

Xavier and SLU swimmers at Real Canoe C.N.

NCAA Division I swimmers from SLU and Xavier University do their pool workouts at Real Canoe C.N., one of Spain's top training facilities for competitive swimmers. SLU-Madrid's partnership with Canoe enables competitive swimmers to meet their training commitments while also having the opportunity to study abroad. 

“I decided to study abroad because it has always been a dream of mine to travel through Europe, but it is difficult with my rigorous swim schedule,” said Billiken swimmer Erica Morris, a junior pursuing a degree in finance. “The summer provided me with the perfect opportunity.”

For Matt Geraghty, who just finished his first year at Xavier, the summer program was “unique and perfect.”

“There is no way to study abroad during the academic year, he said.Meets start in September and go until February, and we also train in the off season. This program is catered toward swimmers: we study abroad, work out and swim.”

Under the supervision of Canoe coach Miguel Mazariegos González, the swimmers from Xavier and SLU do drills and intervals which are very similar to those they do in the off-season back in the U.S. In fact, the Xavier coach sends the specific workouts so his swimmers do the same structured workouts as their teammates back in the U.S., with a warm up, kick set, main set and cool down, Geraghty explained.

“Swimming with the Xavier team has allowed me to grow new-found friendships with many of them,” said Morris’s teammate Madison Kelly, a junior majoring in criminology with a minor in forensic science at SLU. “I cannot wait to see them when we compete against them in September.”

It's a good mix of a fun, laid-back environment while still getting training in, Morris said.

The student athletes not only practice their Spanish language skills with Mazariegos at the pool but also with their host families and daily immersion in Spanish life.

“Through this experience, I have greatly improved my Spanish and knowledge of Spain,” Kelly said. “Not only does this program allow student athletes a chance to travel extensively and improve their Spanish, but it allows us to experience new cultures and meet new people.”

 Morris said she would recommend the experience to anyone interested in studying abroad, but especially to other athletes.

“As an athlete, I know firsthand what it's like to feel as though you're missing out on fun because of your sport," she said. "This is a great opportunity to continue with your sport but also have an experience that you wouldn't have otherwise.”

Geraghty said he recommended that all students, not just athletes, study abroad and travel, adding that the cultural experience was not something he could have replicated in Cincinnati, he said. 

“It is an adventure that I will definitely remember for the rest of my life,” Kelly said.

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