By Sharon Robb
Budapest, Hungary, July 22, 2017—Marc Rojas is a feel-good success story in swimming.
The 23-year-old South Florida Aquatic Club swimmer has had his share of ups and downs in the sport but continues to enjoy the journey that takes him to the 17th FINA World Aquatic Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
On Sunday, the first day of the swimming competition, Rojas, representing the Dominican Republic, will compete in the 100-meter breaststroke. He will swim in the third of eight heats along with another Florida Gold Coast swimmer, Pine Crest Swimming’s Jordy Groters of Aruba, now swimming at Missouri.
Rojas will also compete in the 50-meter breaststroke later in the week.
It will be his first long course world championships. In December 2016, he made his international debut at the FINA World Short Course Championships in Windsor, Canada.
“That was suppose to me my last meet supposedly, that was the plan,” Rojas said.
After graduating Florida State, the former high school state champion at Pembroke Pines Charter and junior national champion at Indian River State College wasn’t planning on swimming much longer.
“I was training to make my U.S. Trials cut but I didn’t do it,” Rojas said. “I waited to see if I could represent the Dominican Republic (his father is Dominican) so I kept training through the summer. The paperwork and everything went through giving me the okay for world championships in December.”
Rojas made a lasting impression in his international debut. He finished the 100-meter breaststroke in a lifetime-best 1:02.18 and national age group short course record for the Dominican Republic.
“That opened the door for me to keep representing the Dominican Republic for the next few years and here I am,” Rojas said.
“I am super excited,” said Rojas, whose mom Elena will watch her son from the stands.
Longtime SOFLO coach Chris Anderson, who has guided his transformation from a gangly teenager to an international swimmer, will coach him in addition to the Jamaican national team without four-time Olympian Alia Atkinson, who is training for the FINA World Cup prize money series.
“It’s going to be a great meet to see all these high level competitors with world rankings and Olympic medals,” Rojas said.
After qualifying for worlds at the Dominican Nationals and being selected for the world team, Rojas has settled into a disciplined and structured lifestyle he said is “swimming, working and schooling.” Rojas is taking the prerequisite classes to get into nursing school.
“I want to stay with swimming for a while,” Rojas said. “I put a lot of thought into it. I thought that getting a career is always going to be there. With swimming, if I stopped I wouldn’t be able to pick it up later. I don’t want to look back over the course of the years and think what could have been. I want to jump on this opportunity I have and go for it.”
Most of the world’s top breaststrokers are in the men’s field including Adam Peaty of Great Britain, Felipe Lima of Brazil, Cody Miller and Kevin Cordes of the U.S., Cameron Van Der Burgh of South Africa and China’s Zibei Yan.
“It’s really cool to be here,” Rojas said. “It’s just like Canada. I feel gratitude and very fortunate to be at worlds around this high level of athlete. These are the greatest athletes in the world.
“The most nerve wracking moment is the ready room where all the athletes are going through their little routines and getting in the zone. In Canada that was the first time for me. It was a cool moment to look around and see the world’s greatest swimmers by your side. It was a cool experience and I’m looking forward to it and competing.”
In addition to Groters, other swimmers with Florida Gold Coast ties are: Gulliver Swim Club’s Alicia Mancilla of Guatemala with her Gulliver head coach Chris George; Metro Aquatics/Duke’s Isabella Paez of Venezuela; St. Andrew’s Lauren Hew of the Cayman Islands; Pine Crest Swimming’s Mikel Schreuders of Aruba; Azura’s Marcos Lavada of Venezuela and Eisner Barberena of Nicaragua; and Azura alum Marcelo Acosta of El Salvador and Daniella van den Berg of Aruba. Other top Florida swimmers ready to take center stage after making a big splash at the 2016 Rio Olympics are Clay High School alum Caeleb Dressel, 20, and Bolles alum Ryan Murphy, 22.
Sunday’s opening session features preliminary rounds in eight different events with four finals. The men’s and women’s 400-meter freestyle and 400-meter freestyle relays will bypass semifinals and advance directly into the finals.
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org