Whitworth senior swimmer Austin Vierra has a background unparalleled by any of his swimming teammates.
“Part of what makes Austin unique and exceptional is his life experience,” swimming head coach Steve Schadt said. “He’s seen more and done more than your typical college student.”
Vierra learned to swim young.
“My mom was a big water skier so she said she didn’t want me to drown if I ever fell out of the boat,” Vierra said.
By the time he was 6, Vierra was swimming competitively and has done so year-round since he was 10.
“It’s been more than part of my life,” Vierra said. “It’s been a lot of what’s defined my existence.”
After two years at Denison University in Ohio, a NCAA Division III swimming powerhouse, Vierra said he needed a change. He admits Whitworth was not on his radar, but he praised Schadt and the Whitworth administration for accommodating him and making it possible for Vierra to join the Whitworth squad.
“Once I got here, the people at this school literally transformed my life,” Vierra said.
Already a two-time All-American, Vierra was a wel- come addition to the Whitworth team not only in the pool, but also as a leader.
“I really like his charisma,” teammate Nathan Ranno said. “He’s just able to be a leader and [an] influence on the team. It’s really easy to be his friend.”
Vierra was crowned Northwest Conference Champion last season in both the 500-yard freestyle and the mile freestyle races, earning his third trip to the NCAA national meet.
But for Vierra, being at Whitworth has been about more than just swimming.
“He’s a very good student,” Ranno said. “He’s really involved in academics. He’s [a student athlete who] takes both the student and the athlete part seriously.”
Vierra, an international business and economics double-major, has a passion for making a global difference.
“For me, the best part of being here at Whitworth has been this transformation about what I care about,” Vierra said.
Willing to set swimming aside for awhile, he traveled last summer to study in Hong Kong for six weeks before teaching English to students in the Fujian province for another six weeks.
“They changed me more than I changed them,” Vierra said. “They have so little and I have so much. They changed my outlook on how I can have an impact in the world by doing such small things.”
Consequently, Vierra said he desires to pursue a career in political risk in the developing world following college.
More imminently, Vierra wants to finish his swimming career strong. Following nationals this spring, Vierra plans to represent Whitworth in a U.S. swimming grand prix, in which his ultimate goal is making Olympic trials in the 400-meter freestyle.
Schadt is excited to see where the future takes Vierra.
“I’m really proud of him,” Schadt said. “He’s been a wonderful addition to our team. I’ve loved working with him. I’m excited to see what he does when he graduates.”
Sena Hughes Staff Writer
Contact Sena Huges at email@example.com.
Photographer: Greg Moser