Soccer, school and swimming: all in a day’s work

Junior Victor Lara balances soccer and swimming with academics. Lara also opens up about his transition from Brazil to the U.S.



Junior Victor Lara sports his burgundy men’s soccer jersey and gets set to kick at Macalester Stadium on Sept. 20.

Swimmer in the morning, student by day and capping the night with soccer is what junior double athlete Victor Lara will endure starting this week.

“Now doing soccer and swimming at the same time, I’m basically challenging myself,” Lara said, “trying to give 100 percent to both sports at the same time with school and morning practices with swimming.”

This week the swimming and diving season has officially begun and since Lara is member of the men’s soccer team, he will be in season for two sports. What’s unique in Lara’s case is he has made a commitment to Ryan Hawke–head coach of Hamline’s swimming and diving program–he will make every practice even with soccer still being in season.

“I think his mentality inside the pool and outside the pool is something that not a lot of people have,” senior captain of the swim team Jerry Daniels said.

The past three years the Brazilian native has had to make some challenging transitions. As a first-year, Lara had to make the transition from coming from Brazil to start college at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Last year, he transferred from River Falls to Hamline. This year, he’s committed to balance two sports while studying International Business at Hamline.

Lara said he was inspired to play soccer this year because of the World Cup and his love for soccer.

Lara grew up in São Paulo, Brazil, and like the rest of the locals, he enjoyed playing the world’s number one sport, soccer. Lara eventually joined a swim club and emerged as one of the fastest swimmers whenever he competed in the pool. In middle school, he had the dream to one day swim on a college level.

“Basically, I came to the US because of swimming. That was my dream since I was in 8th grade,” Lara said. “We don’t have the opportunity to do sports with college in Brazil.”

Through Daquiprafora, an education service based in São Paulo, Lara was connected with Hawke. Hawke was then the head coach of UW-River Falls swimming and diving program.

Hawke said he was excited to hear Lara was interested in joining his program. In addition to Lara’s talents, Hawke said he also felt it was a good opportunity to bring some diversity to his program.

Lara said the two had conversations over-the-phone and after he landed in the U.S. Hawke picked him up and told him more about River Falls’ swimming program.

“We started off [with] a really good relationship with each other. Coach-athlete, since the first day I came here. I think that was a really positive side – having him every day,” Lara said. “Anything I needed help with, he’d be the first person I contact.”

Lara said upon arriving to River Falls he was worried the students there would have preconceived notions about him, as he was coming from a third-world country.

“I [thought] people would actually think twice when they look at me,” Lara said, “but I was completely surprised because 99 percent of the people there were friendly and welcom[ing]. That was a really positive side.”

Hawke said his team even researched Brazilian holidays and celebrated with Lara to celebrate his heritage.

“The whole team made me feel welcome,” Lara said.

Lara said overall it made his transition smoother as he was able to do what he does best, swim. Lara became a powerhouse as he set a school record for the 500 meter freestyle, was the named the school’s 2013 MVS (Most Valuable Swimmer) in the spring and received the WIAC (Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletics Conference) Scholastic Honor Roll.

“Victor is truly what we’re looking for in an athlete,” Hawke said. “He’s got a level head on his shoulders, he makes the right decisions, he’s a team player. He’s constantly putting forth his best efforts and it’s hard to look for something more than that…he’s great academically, he has career goals.”

In the summer of 2013, Hawke pursued Hamline University’s head coaching position for the swimming and diving program and was hired. Lara heard the news while he was in Brazil and he also heard there was a possibility the swimming program at River Falls could be suspended for an entire season.

Lara said he was looking to transfer to another school so he could swim his sophomore year. Since he was in Brazil, he couldn’t physically visit the colleges and he first considered other school’s in the WIAC, school’s he competed against with River Falls. Lara said he wasn’t quite sure if he wanted to branch out of the state of Wisconsin.

Once Hawke explained to Lara that if he transferred to another school in the WIAC he would have to sit out for an entire year in order to be eligible to swim, he decided to join Hawke at Hamline (due to WIAC conference regulations, interconference transfers can’t compete during their transfer year).

“The main reason I came to Hamline was because [Hawke] was here,” Lara said.

Daniels said when Lara first arrived to Hamline, the swimming and diving team was excited because they knew of his reputation.

“We were really excited for Victor to come in. We had heard a lot about his talent and his mentality when it comes to swimming,” Daniels said. “He would tell us all the good things Ryan did at River Falls. He talked him up a lot because Victor has a lot of respect for Ryan.”

Daniels said Lara fit right in with the team and that it feels like he’s been on the team for years now.

Hawke said Lara played a big part in helping him transition to Hamline and set the tone for Piper swimming and diving.

Lara said the most difficult part in the process of transferring to Hamline was going through all the necessary paperwork the day of his flight to Minnesota.

“It was a hard time but it paid off,” Lara said. “Being here a year I can definitely say that it paid off. If I had stayed at River Falls I don’t think I would be as successful as I am right now with swimming and especially with [my] relationships with friends.”

Lara said the small town setting at River Falls made it a great place for him to start his quest in the U.S.A.

“It was a really good place to start my college life and now I come to the real world,” Lara said.

Lara said Hamline’s business program is more concentrated in what he wants to study. Swimming at Hamline is also more convenient for him as Hamline has it’s own pool and training facilities on campus – at River Falls, the swimmers had to go over to a high school to practice in the pool.

Lara said his first day at Hamline is one of his most fond memories.

“The first day of school, when I had two, three classes they were all super nice professors and amazingly good at what they do,” Lara said.

He said he also got the opportunity to meet Athletic Director Jason Verdugo.

“Just the passion and the way he talks about sports. How you should be proud to be a student-athlete, not just at Hamline, in any school that you go to because it’s a pride that you need to embrace. Everyone that is able to compete at a high level and also have really good grades, it’s something you should embrace and be proud of what you do and give it 100 percent and even more,” Lara said.

Lara said this year he decided to join the men’s soccer program because he was passionate to play a sport he’s loved from a young age. Inspired by the World Cup being played in Brazil and encouraged by fellow swim teammate who’s on the men’s soccer team, junior Connor Benson, Lara decided to try out for the team.

Junior Victor Lara at Macalester Stadium on Sept. 20.
Gino Terrell
Junior Victor Lara at Macalester Stadium on Sept. 20.

“It’s a lot on his shoulder but he loves soccer a lot. He wanted to try out for the team and he made the team,” Daniels said.

Head coach of men’s soccer Alex Morawiecki said Lara “has improved a ton” the past month he’s been on the team.

“You can always depend on Victor to work hard. He never says a word, never complained, never makes excuses. He’s a true competitor,” Morawiecki said. “He’s a big time leader on the men’s swim team and he’s quickly becoming a guy that we count on for critical minutes.”

Senior Gilbert Ghong, the men’s soccer team’s leading scorer, said Lara has a good personality.

“He’s a very nice guy, a good teammate,” Ghong said. “He works well with everybody and he’s just fun to be around.”

Daniels said the swimming and diving team continues to support Lara by showing up show up to Pat Paterson Fields to cheer on Lara and Benson.

Lara understands what’s ahead of him as he vowed to continue to participate in both soccer and swimming simultaneously.

“[Typically] when you have an athlete that’s in more than one sport they just focus on the one that’s in season. Then when that one is done they’ll come [here],” Hawke said. “I was pleased to hear that he still wanted to be in the water.”

Lara said his schedule will mean he will have to wake up as early as 5 a.m. to make swimming practices at 6 a.m. He will have classes throughout the day and will have soccer practice that will sometimes go until 8 p.m.

Daniels said one thing he knows about Lara is that he’s a “go-getter.”

“I would definitely say that Victor is a go-getter. He’s very competitive. He doesn’t like to lose,” Daniels said.

Busy schedule and all, Lara said he embraces the challenge. It’s something that drives him, achieving a goal and carrying that confidence throughout the rest of his day.

“I’m excited. I’m one of those people that just love to wake up in the morning, just get everything done and go to class already with something accomplished,” Lara said. “I just feel it’s just amazing how swimming can drive you. There’s no words to describe that feeling.”