The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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International waters: Students from Europe find home with A&M Swimming and Diving


Their journeys may have started from different points on the globe, but for a group of international athletes on the Texas A&M swimming and diving team, the destination was the same — College Station.
The ways their transition from a life abroad to living in the Brazos Valley occurred are diverse, but a passion for the sport and a willingness to make sacrifices in the pursuit of their dreams unites the international members of the Aggie squad.
The choice to move from Baildon, United Kingdom to College Station for the opportunity to compete at the collegiate level was an easy decision to make for freshman diver Sam Thornton. Thornton decided to make the Aggie swimming and diving program his home for the next four years after visiting A&M for the first time.
“It just completely took my breath away,” Thornton said.  “I really wanted to be here, and we made it possible.”
Thornton was an up-and-coming diver in the UK. He earned a bronze medal on the one-meter diving board at the Junior European Diving Championships and a silver medal at the British Championships.
Traveling about 4,700 miles to reach his new Texas home meant leaving a part of his life, including his parents, in Baildon in order to fulfill a lifelong dream.
“My parents are very happy, I’ve kind of made this a dream of mine to do and they’re very happy that I worked really hard to make it a reality,” Thornton said. “But they do miss me a lot. My dad works away, and my mom is at home on her own so my mom misses me a lot. But they are very happy to know that I am safe and enjoying myself.”
Swimming runs through sophomore Béryl Gastaldello’s veins. Both her mother and grandmother are former Olympic swimmers for the French national team. When given the opportunity to continue her education while swimming competitively, Gastaldello immediately accepted the offer.
“It was a big deal, because at home you can’t really do both, we have to make the choice to either swim or study,” Gastaldello said. “So I wanted to try the American experience and I’m very happy about it.”
Gastaldello was the No. 1 international recruit for the class of 2014. In her first season with the Aggies, she earned the 2015 SEC Female Freshman of the Year award after a strong showing at the SEC Championships. She earned third place or better in every event she competed in at the SEC Championships, along with six medals at the 2015 French National Championships that included a gold medal in the 50-meter backstroke.
To the Gastaldello family, a move across the world was not a life-changing event, since they have a firsthand experience of what it means to sacrifice family time in order to be successful and follow a dream.
“My parents just let me do what I need to, but they all know what it is like because they’re all Olympian swimmers,” Gastaldello said. “So they know what sacrifices it takes.”
Senior Alexandros Theocharidis, former member of the Greek national swim team, never thought he would swim competitively for the Aggies until he was first introduced to, and later recruited by, Texas A&M head coach Jay Holmes in 2012.
“I think I’m one of the exceptions of the international guys, because I actually didn’t look at all to come to A&M — they just found me,” Theocharidis said. “I never took a recruiting trip. I just heard about A&M — that it’s a prestigious university and the swimming and diving team is really good. So for me it wasn’t a hard decision to make to come here.”
After four years of living in the United States, Theocharidis is still trying to assimilate himself to the American lifestyle.
“I’m still trying to adjust — it’s way different here than Europe and especially Greece,” Theocharidis said. “Everything here is huge and spread out, and in Europe everything is more packed. My hometown is no bigger than College Station, but it’s more compact.”
Texas A&M head coach Jay Holmes attributes Theocharidis’ success in the pool to the high maturity he had coming out of high school due to all the travels he had to make early in his life to be a competitive swimmer.
“As a freshman he was already fairly more mature than most of the freshmen, he had more life experiences that a typical freshman coming in wouldn’t,” Holmes said. “Every year that he is here, obviously the more experience you have the older you are.”

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