At the age of 18, redshirt junior swimmer Victor Goicoechea made a life-changing decision that was unconventional in Spain: foregoing the immediate prospect of a professional career and leaving for the U.S. to swim in college.
That decision did not, however, lead the Barcelona native directly to the University of Wisconsin. Instead, after a gap year, it led him to a place 4,000 miles away from Madison—the University of Hawaii-Manoa.
During his first two years at Hawaii, Goicoechea enjoyed massive success, sweeping the distance events at the MPSF conference championships in both 2014 and 2015. Craving more competitive training after his training partners left the program, he decided to explore his options in the spring of 2016.
“We had a really good team at Hawaii my first year, but then people started leaving,” Goicoechea explained. “I wanted to have training partners, but I didn’t really have any. Wisconsin is a really good program for a distance specialist, I love racing in practice. That was what I was lacking at Hawaii.”
Back in Barcelona during a redshirt season spent training in an unsuccessful attempt to qualify for the Spanish Olympic team, Goicoechea found not just the right academic and athletic fit at Wisconsin, but also a common connection with another incoming transfer on the team: sophomore Cierra Runge.
“I heard about [Runge] from one of my really good friends back [in Spain], Marina Garcia. They were training partners at Cal,” Goicoechea said. “She told me that Cierra was coming to Wisconsin as well, and I thought that was really cool.”
“It’s been fun having another transfer to adjust with and having that common bond,” Runge said. “We’ve both fit in really well with the team.”
Since arriving in Madison last August, Goicoechea has adjusted well—except, perhaps, to the cold.
“I thought the cold was going to be way worse, to be honest,” Goicoechea said. “They give us really nice coats, so that’s helped. Coming from Hawaii, it’s still cold.”
The biggest factors in this adjustment, as well as Goicoechea’s decision to come to UW, are the other members of the distance group—headlined by Runge and senior Matt Hutchins, both of whom are Olympians.
“[Training with Hutchins] has improved me a lot,” Goicoechea said. “When you’re struggling to get to a certain pace and you see someone near you like Matt who’s kinda kicking your ass, you kick it into another gear.”
Hutchins’ impact on Goicoechea in training has not gone unnoticed; in fact, both teammates now have mile times that rank in the Top 15 in the country.
What casual observers may not notice is Goicoechea’s impact as a role model for younger swimmers on the team. At 22, Goicoechea has been out of high school longer than anyone else on the team, and he still has one season of eligibility remaining after this year.
“Victor is an awesome training partner and a leader in the distance group,” freshman Eric Geunes said. “It’s really fun to chase him down in practice every now and then; we both push each other to places we haven’t been before.”
Goicoechea says that these younger swimmers, including Geunes, have had a significant impact on his training as well.
“Eric is a really good training partner. Matt can be a little bit ahead of you and you’ll want to race him, [Geunes] is the guy that’s right behind me pushing me, so if I fall asleep a little bit … well, he makes sure I don’t,” Goicoechea said.
Goicoechea has a lot more training and racing his teammates in practice to look forward to, as the Badgers have slightly under a month until Big Ten championships and two until NCAAs.
The jury is still out on how Goicoechea will impact the team at these meets, but for him, taking the risk and moving halfway around the world a second time has paid off.