Queens Olympians balance training and education

Two Queens swimmers traveled to the Olympic Games in August to compete for gold in swimming. Patricia Castro-Ortega, 24, and Dion Dreesens, 23, both competed for gold representing their home countries.

Castro-Ortega, from Madrid, Spain, and Dreesens, from Venray, Netherlands, both agree being full-time students and Division II athletes can be a tough task to balance. Both swimmers spend between 25 to 30 hours a week training while continuing to stay on top of their school work. In regards to their training schedule, “they have to be challenged more mentally than physically a lot of times,” said head swim coach Jeff Dugdale. “They need solid sleep and nutrition programs so that they can recover.”

Dreesens, a sports management major, finds that balancing athletics and classwork is far from easy. To ensure he never falls behind, “I will start my assignments almost immediately after I get them,” said Dreesens. Castro-Ortega, a senior, is majoring in business administration and marketing while still swimming every day. She prefers to use her planner and her weekends to set aside time for each assignment that is due in the upcoming days. She also uses her time between practices and classes to study and do homework.

Both swimmers chose to leave their home countries to swim at Queens. Dreesens was interested in the higher level of swimming America had to offer. His old coach was great friends with the coach at SwimMAC, an elite training club in Charlotte, and decided to spend three months testing the area, along with the coaches and teams. Once in Charlotte he was introduced to Queens head swim coach Jeff Dugdale. The two discussed attending school seriously as Dreesens was very interested in obtaining an American degree. “I really wanted to end up with a bachelor’s degree and back home it is almost impossible,” said Dreesens.

Castro-Ortega was not happy in Spain. “In Spain, you cannot train and study at the same time. If I want to go to college I have to train and then get my degree in eight years.” The repetition of swimming in the same place for so many years became very frustrating for Castro-Ortega and she wanted a change in her life. She also was interested in learning English, and she met a Queens swimmer who had traveled to Spain to study. She then spoke with coach Jeff Dugdale and they found a fit for each other.

As children both swimmers were encouraged to stay in the water by their parents and as a result joined swim teams. In 2012, Dreesens saw his dreams turning into reality when he qualified at the London Olympic trials for the men’s 200-meter individual freestyle.

For Castro-Ortega, 2008 was the year she knew being an Olympian was an achievable goal. After winning a European gold medal her coach persuaded her to focus on training after high school so she could reach the Olympics.

Castro-Ortega competed in the women’s 200-meter freestyle, 800-meter freestyle relay, and the 400-meter freestyle relay.  Dreesens competed in the men’s 4×200 freestyle and the individual 200-meter freestyle. Although both swimmers came up short of the podium in Rio, Castro-Ortega plans to “have a light year of training and may decide to try for Tokyo in 2020.” As for Dreesens, he has great confidence in his relay team. “We have a really young relay team so we can easily go on for another four or eight years,” said Dreesens.

articlepictureDion Dreesen's Twitter

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Published by students of Queens University of Charlotte, 1900 Selwyn Avenue, Charlotte, N.C. 28274.