Student dives into a new culture in Spain

BY MITCH SMITH | MARCH 02, 2010 7:30 AM

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Deidre Freeman wanted to study abroad, but one problem held her back.

She’s an athlete.

As a senior on the Iowa diving team facing hectic training schedules and weekly competitions, studying abroad seemed almost out of the question for her or any other student-athlete.

But that didn’t stop her.

Freeman spent the first semester studying in Madrid, Spain, while at the same time training with the Spanish National diving team, honing her skills on the board.

The native of Grinnell had already planned to redshirt her senior season, allowing her to pursue her studies. She approached diving coach Bob Rydze after the 2009 Big Ten championships and voiced her desire to go abroad.

“She asked me what I thought, and I was all for it,” Rydze said. “Academics come first, so I wouldn’t have discouraged her.”

Rydze, the chairman of the board for USA Diving, is friends with Spanish diving coach Manolo Gandarias, and thanks to Rydze, Freeman found a way to combine studying and diving while overseas.

Training with the team didn’t violate NCAA rules, either. She just wasn’t allowed to compete.

Still, Freeman said she felt guilty about leaving her teammates behind, especially with two new divers.

“I kind of felt like I had an obligation to be here,” she said. “I feel like I’m a leader on the team. … but it was only a semester. I knew I was coming back.”

Teammate Veronica Rydze didn’t feel let down by Freeman’s decision.

“I was sad she wasn’t going to be around,” she said. “But this was great opportunity she had, and I’m glad she got to do it.”

During her time in Spain, Freeman not only learned to clean up her diving, her Spanish improved, as well.

She worked on fixing her entries into the water and other intricate details only judges would notice, she said, while while continually getting a better grip on the language and traveling to Ireland and Scotland.

Her travels didn’t come without frustrations.

Although her coach spoke English, he forbade her from speaking the language, telling her he would coach entirely in Spanish.

Away from the pool, the diver from a town of about 9,000 had to adjust to the bustling city life in Madrid, its roughly 3.2 million inhabitants, and her paranoia of being robbed.

Unfortunately for Freeman, her fear wasn’t enough to keep her from being robber. One week before her return to the states, someone entered her house through a window and stole her purse, wallet, and computer.

Still, the frustrations didn’t outweigh the positives of her trip, she said.

“I know that not everyone is going to be able to study abroad, especially if they’re an athlete,” she said. “But I think if they have the chance, and they have the facilities and coaching abroad, they should look into it because it was an amazing experience.”

The training continues for Freeman until the Summer Diving Nationals in August. When she takes to the board for Iowa next season, the things she learned during her time away will likely leave an indelible mark on her teammates and the program.

“I think her experiences help our future diving team for a few reasons,” Bob Rydze said. “She got to learn firsthand about what they do, and she’s brought a lot of that back to me and the team. The second thing is what she learned from the culture. All this translates down to the divers, which makes them better divers and better people.”

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