Swimmer uses experience on Olympic stage, brings depth to team
In August 2016, Brandon Schuster, freshman engineering major and member of the swim team at California Baptist University, made his Olympic debut representing his home country of Samoa at the Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro.
Eighteen-year-old Schuster competed in the men’s 200-meter freestyle and finished with a time of 01:57.720 in Heat 1.
Schuster said competing at the Olympics started like any other international competition. However, at the last seconds before the race, his bubble popped and reality sank in.
“As you move up each row it’s like something is slowly building up in you. You see the other people who just raced get out of the water and as you’re about to head out, everything crashes,” Schuster said. “It’s when you walk up
to the board that you are at your peak.”
Schuster said he was overwhelmed by feelings on the Olympic stage.
“Once you walk up and hear the first call, you’re totally focused – it’s only you and the water. It’s this surreal feeling. I haven’t felt it at any other meet I’ve been in. You’re at your high and suddenly you don’t know anything else that is happening,” Schuster said.
“You forget that it’s the Olympics, you forget that you’re racing, you forget about your time. It feels out of this world and you only come back to reality once you’ve touched at the finish and you look up and see your time. It feels like from the start to the end you are not part of what is happening.”
Schuster said his mother and former swim coach, Suzie Schuster, prepared him for his Olympic debut.
“Marching in the Opening Ceremony was really emotional, and to have that shared experience with my son is second to none. I suppose ‘firsts’ are like that–first competition, first medal, first Olympics,” Suzie Schuster said. “Brandon was my first child–the one I made mistakes with–the one I learned to be a parent with. To attend the Olympics as his coach was an amazing first.”
Suzie Schuster said she believes Brandon’s love for swim comes from his love for people.
“He loves his Oceania swim family. These islanders are another part of his greater family. That is why he is loving it so much at CBU. The swim team has now become his family as it is people he loves the most,” Suzie Schuster said.
After his Olympic debut, Schuster said he wanted to focus on school. In December 2016, weeks after graduating high school, Schuster began training with the CBU swim team and later started his college career January 2017.
“I was looking for a small college that had my major, had a strong swim program, and a strong faith-based education,” Schuster said. “Growing up in a tropical island, I wanted to go somewhere that was warmer than Michigan.”
Rick Rowland, head coach, said he exchanged emails with Schuster for some time discussing the team and the school.
After meeting Schuster, Rowland said he saw a good athlete, person and student for the swim team because he displayed a strong work ethic, a positive spirit and an amicable personality with his teammates.
“He filled some voids for us and we encouraged him to join in January instead of next fall and so he started Christmas break training with us Dec. 27,” Rowland said.
After Schuster started training with the team, Rowland said he noticed special athletic traits in his practices.
“One thing a lot of people don’t have is his experience swimming in world-class meets so he really has no fear when he gets in meets,” Rowland said. “He swam some very high level meets so he doesn’t swim with much apprehension or fear. He just goes for it and that comes from experience.”
Schuster said the biggest difference in training at CBU was the same-age team experience he did not get in Samoa.
“I would be the oldest one there and I’d be a bit ahead of them, very small team for the whole country,” Schuster said. “Being able to train with a team is what I’ve always dreamed of. Coming to CBU and having a team has just been surreal. It’s probably up there with the Olympics. I’ve had the time of my life in the past three months I have been here.”
Schuster competed as a true freshman at the NCAA Division II Championship meet March 8-11, placing fourth in the 400 IM, setting a new CBU record, beating the previous 400 IM record set by Josh Hanson, senior electrical and computer engineering major, in 2016 by just under a minute.
Schuster and the rest of the team will use the offseason to prepare for next season.