Last summer, Beatriz Padron was competing at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, the 18-year-old being one of two swimmers representing Costa Rica in the Olympics.
Padron said the experience was “indescribable,” and it’s when she’s been the most true to herself. While she didn’t bring home medals from Tokyo, she raced to a career-best 2:04.56 in the 200 freestyle.
Now, Padron finds herself in a different setting, competing as a freshman for Nebraska. At the end of the team’s most recent meet against Rutgers, she’s quick to acknowledge that she wasn’t at her best. In the 200 freestyle, she placed sixth out of eight. The best showing came in the 400 freestyle relay, where she helped her team to a runner-up finish.
This season, the Olympian has mostly been trying to adjust. Her swimming schedule has shifted immensely. Back home, her sessions took place in the afternoon, “especially the hard sets.” Now they take place in the early morning. Combined with classes and the challenge of living on her own, it’s taken time to get settled.
In addition to that, the long-term schedule is demanding, with less time for rest. On Saturday against the Scarlet Knights, she felt the effects of that.
“I often find it hard to race fast when we’re not rested, which is one of the main points of college swimming,” she said. “It’s very different from what I did back home. So I’ve been getting used to the change. But I’m pretty happy with what I swam today. Every competition is a learning experience.”
Padron has had success with the Huskers already, winning the 500 freestyle in her debut against South Dakota State and winning the 200 freestyle in a meet against Iowa.
Her coach, Pablo Morales, has been impressed with how she’s performed and gotten used to the new setting.
“She’s got a personality, just very outgoing, very communicative, a hard worker, very earnest in everything that she’s doing,” he said. “So the transition for her has been going really well. And we expect it to be better and better. She’s gonna be shining here.”
The Huskers were the first school to contact Padron, with assistant coach Patrick Rowan reaching out when she was 15 years old. There were some misunderstandings involved in that process, given that the database listed her as a year older.
However, Nebraska continued to be the only program that stayed consistent throughout the recruitment process. Padron, who rose to the No. 46 international recruit in her class by CollegeSwimming, took her official visit in 2019 and decided she didn’t need to see anywhere else before making the decision.
“They really made it clear that they wanted me to come here,” she said. “. . . It was a little bit stressful figuring out what I was going to do after I graduated high school, but thankfully here at Nebraska, I saw a great opportunity to further my swimming career and college career.”
Before starting her career as a Husker, Padron took that trip to Tokyo for the Olympics. Along with enjoying the overall experience, she felt that she gained a whole new perspective of her sport.
“It was a joyful experience training for that meet,” she said. “From the moment they gave me the news that I was going, which was very unexpected to me, to getting on the plane and being in the waiting room for my competition and just touching the touch plate at the end of my race and seeing my coach, everything just filled me with joy.”
One of the most important lessons she learned came from her coach, who instilled in her that she needed to “love the suffering.” That meant gaining an appreciation for the smaller things, such as pain she felt after every set, and not just loving her sport for the results.
“I felt much closer to being a child going to practice than being an elite swimmer going to the Olympics,” Padron said. “And also, if you don’t enjoy it, it’s not gonna be worth it even if you’re the world champion.”
She’s still adjusting to some things in Lincoln. As Padron references a talented swimmer from another Big Ten school, she takes a minute to look over at the school logos hanging on the wall to confirm that the swimmer, Maggie MacNeil, goes to Michigan.
Padron also admits that it took a little while for her to build a relationship with her teammates, given some of the cultural and language barriers. However, she said that they’ve gotten along well, and she appreciates the support they give her regardless of results.
Outside of personal accomplishments, growth with her teammates is one of Padron’s biggest goals for the rest of her career. Saturday was also Senior Day for Nebraska, and she’s excited for what the future holds for herself and the team.
“I can’t wait to see what these next few years have for us,” Padron said. “And for us to grow closer until we’re seniors, like this was an amazing senior day. I saw my teammates race their last race in Devaney. And I hope to be a happy swimmer when I get to that point myself.”