FGCU Swimmers Recap Olympic Experience
Heading to the Olympic Games in London this summer was both a homecoming and the fulfillment of a longtime dream for Florida Gulf Coast University Swimming Coach Neal Studd.
A native Britt, Studd grew up just outside of London and narrowly missed representing his home country in the 1996 Olympic games. As an athlete, Studd swam in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic trials as part of the British team, but he failed to qualify for the Olympics.
Thanks to an outstanding FGCU swimmer from Saint Lucia, Studd finally got his chance to experience the intensity and grandeur of the Olympic Games, all within minutes of his hometown. Only this time he’d be coaching as part of the St. Lucia team.
Studd also provided moral support to another member of his FGCU women’s swimming team. Karen Vilorio competed in the 100-meter backstroke for her native Honduras, while teammate Danielle Beaubrun represented St. Lucia in the 100-meter breaststroke.
Both women say they owe much to the training they have received from Studd at FGCU. Beaubrun fought to bring Studd with her to the Games rather than a St. Lucian coach. He had already coached for St. Lucia at the Pan American Games and the World Championships in Shanghai.
“Neal knows me better than anyone else,” Beaubrun said. “He knows how I train. It’s a comfort thing for me.”
Beaubrun is St. Lucia’s top female swimmer, hailing from an island nation with a population less than a third the size of Lee County. She also competed for St. Lucia in the 2008 Beijing Games, but was considered a wildcard entry. It was an overwhelming experience for the then 18-year old.
This time, Beaubrun went as a “legitimate Olympian,” having posted a qualifying time of 1:10.63, a personal best, at the Pan Am Games.
“This time around I qualified, and that meant a lot to me,” said Beaubrun, a senior majoring in biochemical engineering.
In London, she went out hard, leading the heat of eight swimmers for the first half of the 100 meters. However, she let nerves get to her, finishing the event 36th of 46.
Vilorio also failed to make the semifinals. She won her heat of five, but her time of 1:06.38 wasn’t enough to advance. It was just a fraction of a second from her personal best time logged during a Gulf Coast Swim Team qualifying meet in May.
“I’ve been very excited how much Karen has improved,” Studd said of the sophomore who has three more years to swim for FGCU.
Both women posted their second-best times at the Olympics, which is commendable considering the overstimulation which comes with an Aquatic Center packed with more than 17,000 fans.
“They did a great job,” Studd said. “It’s amazing how massive it is, the whole of the thing. Swimming at the Olympics is just unbelievable. The standard really jumped. It gets faster every time.”
Both Beaubrun and Vilorio competed on the second day of the Olympics, leaving them plenty of time to enjoy life in the Olympic Village.
“I did love just being in the Village,” Beaubrun said. “You always see someone famous, and you realize not many people have the opportunity to see all the top athletes in the world in one area.”
They also enjoyed sightseeing around London and watching other athletes compete.
“It has been the greatest experience I’ve ever had,” said Vilorio, who has been living in the United States just two years while attending FGCU. “I’ve improved so much since I’ve been here. I would definitely not be where I am today without Coach Neal.”
Studd is a three-time Coastal College Swimming Association Coach of the Year. FGCU’s young swimming program has captured the CCSA title for the last four of its five seasons.
Vilorio and Beaubrun both plan to continue training, with sights on competing in the Rio Olympic Games in 2016. “I’ll work myself to get there,” said Vilorio.
Beaubrun and Studd are hoping the Olympic committee adds her best event, the 50-meter breaststroke, in 2016. By then, she hopes to have a career in the biomechanics of athletes, with a specific interest in helping people with prosthetics.
Vilorio is studying finance and plans to operate her own business someday. The next major goal for both girls will be coming out on top at the World Swimming Championships in Turkey this December.