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A fish out of water

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A fish out of water

Swimming sensation and Olympic hopeful Naomi Ruele talks about the frustrations of lockdown in the USA

Just two months ago when the world was something like normal, Naomi Ruele was on the brink of qualifying for her second Olympic Games.

Now with the restrictions of Covid-19 all that is on hold. However, Botswana’s only female swimmer to qualify for the global games remains hopeful that when the shackles are off, she will again rise to the occasion.

At the age of 23, Mochudi born Naomi has no equal as the most decorated swimmer to come out of Botswana.

It is a remarkable journey that began at a pool in a Gaborone hotel.

Speaking to Voice Sport she revealed, “My passion for swimming started at a very tender age. I used to swim at my mom’s workplace at the Grand Palm, and it was mainly for fun. But the love developed and I took it from there.”

The ‘there’ has now taken her to the USA and the Florida International University together with a CV that makes an impressive entry on the pages of Wikipedia.

“I got an opportunity to go to the USA to study and do professional swimming by emailing a couple of Universities. So many University coaches wanted me to be in their respective teams. I got enrolled at Florida, and everything transitioned quickly as I was introduced to impressive training facilities, a coach, physical therapy and sports psychology which played a vital role in my performance as a swimmer,” she said.

Quizzed about her biggest achievement so far, she said, “Being chosen as Conference USA Swimmer of the Year winner for four consecutive years, Botswana Junior Sports woman of the year and the AUSC Region 5 Sports woman of the year are all highlights.”

But qualifying for the 2016 Summer Olympics in the woman’s 50 metre freestyle, which saw her ranked 47th in the world, has been her crowning glory to date.

“The atmosphere of the Olympics was out of this world. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It is an empowering experience and something I will forever cherish being surrounded by some of the best athletes in the world. I was very nervous for the entire time I was there though. It can be overwhelming and often you doubt yourself. But overall an amazing experience.”

Her appearance on the international stage is one she is itching to repeat.

“Just a week before everything paused due the Covid-19, I had a solid training plan with my coach to prepare for the upcoming Olympic qualifiers. My confidence was really high.” she added.

A fish out of water
FLYING FISH: Ruele in action

At the moment she admits to being something of a fish out of water and can’t wait to get back into the pool.

“Right now my focus is to stay fit and work with my coach on a plan to train when I get a chance and move forward. All the pools are closed and it’s not very safe to go outside, but I train indoors with some home workouts and I have some equipment,” she said.

Talking of the situation in Florida where she lives with housemates, “because it’s more cost effective than living alone,” she is concerned by the number of Covid related deaths in the USA.

“It’s very scary when you see the figures but I am very safe as I stay in a secure environment. I just hope everything gets back to normal so that I start competing again,” she said.

Although she would not be drawn on questions regarding her social life or politics – “These are personal questions that I’d rather keep to myself!” – she did admit to feeling somewhat homesick at times.

“I come home to Bots once or twice a year. I miss my family, friends and Setswana food.”

But having experienced life in Florida and New York she adds, “I like the diversity of living in a big city and being exposed to different cultures. Being here is not really as different as everyone makes it out to be.”

Naomi admits to speaking with an American accent in which, “My Botswana accent seems to seep through still,” and although she holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Communication from the University of Florida, still her greatest dream is to hold an Olympic swimming medal.

At a time when all of us are dreaming of better things, we wish her all the success in the world.

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