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Spotlight on International Athletes

June 10, 2013

There’s an impressive number of all-American athletes at Wayne State University – and ironically, some of them aren’t American at all.

Did you know that Warrior sports are powered by an international roster of accomplished men and women who hail from as near as Ontario, Canada to as far away as Ecuador and Uzbekistan? These highly skilled athletes diversify and enrich WSU athletics to maximize the university’s competitive advantage in play. At the same time, they enhance the cultural composition of the student body, fostering a dynamic exchange of ideas in the classrooms and the commons.

Take Piotr Jachowicz, a native of Lodz, Poland, who captured the spotlight at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s swimming and diving championships. Jachowicz, who was named Men’s Swimmer of the Year for the 2012-2013 season by the College Swimming Coaches Association of America, earned seven NCAA All-America honors and captured national titles in the 200 IM and 400 IM, breaking Division II national records in both events. At the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) Championships, Jachowicz was voted Men's Swimmer of the Year, became the first Division II swimmer to break the 1:46 mark with his victory in the 200 IM, and broke a pool record with his win in the 100 breaststroke, among other notable finishes.

The WSU women’s swimming and diving team also boasts an international student champion in Carol Azambuja of Sao Paulo, Brazil, who earned five All-America accolades at this season’s NCAA Championships and was named GLIAC Women's Swimmer of the Year. At the GLIAC Championships, Azambuja earned four conference titles and swam on three second-place relay teams. She also won the 50 freestyle, the 100 backstroke and 100 freestyle, broke a meet and school record with her time in the 100 freestyle, and anchored the first-place 200 medley relay.

Jachowicz, a sophomore majoring in psychology, caught the eye of an Oakland University coach while swimming in Europe, and swam with the Golden Grizzlies for a season before transferring to Wayne State.

“I wanted to study and swim in the United States – it was my biggest dream when I was young,” he said. “I feel awesome at Wayne. The school is great, the program is great, and the coaches are more than coaches – they’re also friends.”

The ratio of coaches to swimmers is greater at Wayne State than in the typical university swim program in Poland, Jachowicz said, meaning that the swimmers get more attention and personalized training. What’s more, he said, his WSU professors are much more understanding about scheduling conflicts posed by team travel. Azambuja, a marketing major who has made the Coach's Honor Roll at Wayne State, also cites faculty’s flexibility as a key motivator for international students.

“I take my education very seriously, and the professors here are proud of you if you’re an athlete,” she said. “If you miss an exam, they will help you to take it another day. In Brazil, they only want you to study. You don’t choose your own classes, you stay in classes all day, and the coursework is so intensive. They make it very hard for athletes.”

Another international Warrior is Thomas Ducret, a native of Paris, France who played tennis for WSU while studying business and marketing. Ducret finished his tennis career at Wayne State this spring third in the program’s history, with 58 singles wins and tied for third with 52 doubles triumphs. In the 2012-2013 season, he earned All-GLIAC Second Team honors, was named to the GLIAC All-Academic Excellence Team, and posted a 15-7 singles record.

Like Jachowicz and Azambuja, Ducret spent his weekdays shuffling continually between classes, practice, and the weight room, but said he found time to take in the sights and sounds of Detroit.

“I have spent my summers in Detroit and I love going to the lake and to Tigers games,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Ducret, who was recruited by a former WSU assistant men’s swim coach who also hailed from France, said he was particularly pleased by the attentiveness he was shown when making the transition to the United State four years ago. Head Coach Bryan Morrow picked him up personally from the airport, helped him find an apartment and furniture, and just generally kept an eye on him.

Candice Howard, WSU assistant athletic director for academic support and senior women’s administrator for the university’s Athletic Department, said that support is common in Warrior athletics.

“A lot of our coaches recruit international students, and they are constantly making sure that their experience is pleasurable and that they achieve academically,” said Howard, adding that international athletes are assessed for their various needs as part of their orientation. “If they need English tutoring or subject matter tutoring, if they need help getting a computer or a cell phone, or if they need buddies to study with, we make sure to have these services available to them.”