Libby Bandelin—Staff Writer
“Swimmers take your mark!”
Time stops for Nadia Speulstra as she stands on the block. She glances up to see the flags above her and then looks down to the still water that waits below. Everything is deafened except for the sound of steady breathing and the rhythm of her heartbeat. This moment of hyper-awareness transpires in one second.
“I hear the beep, and that’s it.”
Speulstra begins her race. As she dives in and breaks the water, the silence around her is also broken. The pool resonates with shrill whistles. When she lifts her head above the water to take a breath, she hears the screams of coaches and teammates cheering her and her competitors on.
This scene is familiar to anyone who has ever swam competitively. Meet after meet, Speulstra has played the scene at every event, and it is the moment she describes as feeling most alive. Speulstra started her swim career in the fourth grade. She swam for Grand Rapids Christian High School and Calvin University Club—a swim club for both high school and collegiate swimmers. Her events were the 200-meter backstroke, 100, 200, & 500-meter freestyle, and the medley relay.
But her sports career didn’t start in the pool.
At nine years old, Speulstra dislocated her knee doing a back handspring in a gymnastics meet. When her knee continued to dislocate two to three times a week, she knew something was wrong. After four surgeries to try and fix her knee problem, swimming became the only sport Speulstra could compete in without feeling pain.
Now a freshman at Dordt, Speulstra is facing her first time without a swim team in nearly a decade.
“Swimming competitively adds so much to your life, and it has been such a part of my life,” Speulstra said. “With two hours in the pool a day, plus lifting in the mornings, you feel so strong. It builds such a community, and I am missing that here.”
If Dordt had a swim team, particularly a swimming scholarship, it would have been a major selling point for Speulstra when she began her college search. Speulstra seriously considered the University of Michigan because of its rigorous swimming program. Even though she eventually decided to attend Dordt, the fact that there is no swim team kept her from immediately making Dordt her college decision.
Speulstra is not the only student who weighed the absence of the sport in their college decision process. Freshman Paul Roscoe, a chemistry and biology major, felt conflicted when he saw other schools with swim programs.
“I knew I wouldn’t have swimming when I applied to this college,” Roscoe said. “But Dordt having a swim team would have made that decision a lot easier for me.”
One college Roscoe mentioned was Midland University, an institution in his home state of Nebraska. Midland has a student enrollment of 1,765 and a swim team with about sixty members which Roscoe says is a draw to the college and the community for potential students.
Roscoe started swimming at the age of eight for Nebraska’s West Point Swim Team and remained with the team until summer of 2022. A sprinter, Roscoe specialized in the 50-meter freestyle and the 100 Individual Medley.
“I like being in a sport, and swimming is a sport that I’m good at,” Roscoe said.
The absence of a Defender swim team has not only impacted the swimming careers of current students but also future ones. Bronwen Dean, head coach of the Sioux Center Seahawk Swim Club (a club governed by USA Swimming), thinks a Dordt swimming program could be a powerful asset for her team and for the community.
“Without a Dordt swim program, we lose so many Seahawks around the seventh and eighth grade because they don’t see a future for themselves in swimming,” Dean said.
Dean’s swimmers often switch to sports like basketball when they are approaching their peak years of swimming because basketball and volleyball are the top sports programs Northwest Iowa colleges offer.
“These kids are really talented in the sport and would be much more likely to get scholarships in swimming than in basketball,” Dean said. “I know a lot of alumni and donors who have swimmers and would want to send their kids to Dordt but don’t because there isn’t a swim program.”
Coming from her own career as a collegiate swimmer at Iowa State University, Dean wants her athletes to be able to have the same experience she did.
“You make friends and memories for life,” Dean said. “It’s more special than high school swimming because you are living out your passions in a rigorous academic environment and juggling so many other things. In order to succeed you have to really be passionate about it.”
Back in December, Dean went to New York to watch two of her former swimmers compete in the Army vs Navy swim meet. It was the first time the Army team beat the Navy team in 33 years.
“Those two boys from small town Iowa helped make history,” Dean said.
With the Seahawks Swim Team, Dean says Sioux Center is primed as a community to be a great feeder program for the school.
“We’ve got some talented kids, and I would love for them to swim at Dordt,” Dean said.
She is not the only advocate for the community benefits of swimming.
In 2019, a technical research report done by Swim-England found that swimmers tend to be more socially connected and engaged in their community than non-swimmers. The study showed that swimmers are 26 percent more likely to volunteer for community events, more than 34 percent more likely to volunteer in a sport or other physical activity, and spend about seven percent more hours giving unpaid help. The report also shows that competitive swimming produces physical and mental wellbeing as well as social, economic, and community development.
Over the last 10 years, the athletics program at Dordt has grown. The university has added new programs like dance and competitive cheer, as well as men’s volleyball in 2015 and an increase in football recruits from 90 to 135 students. Looking ahead, the athletics program sees a trajectory of growth in the coming years as well, says Ross Douma, director of athletics.
“There are substantially more student athletes now on Dordt’s campus than ever before,” Douma said. “Forty-four percent of the general student population is comprised of student-athletes.”
If this continued growth in the student body and athletics keeps trending, Douma said that expanding athletic programs at Dordt is plausible. The athletics program is carefully considering the potential of adding teams such as tennis, wrestling, and swimming. If Dordt did add any new programs, it would be at least three to five years before those changes came about, Douma added.
Students who are interested in earning a Christian education might look at Dordt as an option but go elsewhere if they can’t find a desired athletic program like swimming or wrestling. While this is a great reason to consider adding new athletic programs, there are other factors to consider.
“Adding a swim team is more complicated than just starting a program,” Douma said. “It’s about making sure we can accommodate the new athletes in housing and provide them with an impactful college experience. Everything has to mesh together from all parts of the campus community–it takes the strategic planning of more than just the athletic department.”
Douma has been in conversation with the Sea Hawks swim team to develop an understanding of what a swim program could look like. If a Defender swim program were to be created, “Dordt would have the means to do that well,” Douma said. “There is definitely a heart to bring it forward, we just need to find a good time to properly execute it.”
Dordt is involved with two college athletic associations, the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes) and GPAC (Great Plains Athletic Conference). The NAIA holds championships in swimming, GPAC does not.
Within the NAIA, 47 out of 250 institutions have swimming and diving programs.
Dordt has other students with swimming pasts: Sioux Center native Avery Koopmans started swimming with the Seahawks when she was eight years old. The elementary education major swam with the team until she graduated high school, while also captaining the Metro Team in Sioux City her junior and senior year.
Koopmans swam for Augustana University her first semester of freshman year but felt called to come back home. Now at Dordt, she has found other ways to pursue her passion for swimming on the pool deck, where she lifeguards and teaches swim lessons at the All Seasons Center and is an assistant coach for the Seahawks Team.
“Swimming has made me who I am and it is something I can do for life. It’s taught me the value of time commitment and hard work,” Koopmans said. “If I’m not here to be an athlete, I can still be involved with my love for the water.”
Koopmans is excited for the growth she has seen at Dordt and in her home-town.
“I never would have thought we would have something like the Dome here and it happened. A swim team is not just talk—it could happen,” said Koopmans. “This could be the next step of college growth. God works in amazing ways and I’m excited to see if maybe this is something I could be involved with down the road.”