A Summer (Sanders) in Spain

Photo Courtesy: Summer Sanders

By McKenna Ehrmantraut, Swimming World College Intern. 

Traveling quenches the soul of wanderers and opens the eyes to adventures, freedom, knowledge and exciting insights into new cultures. Most swimmers find that the bulk of their travel revolves around away meets, having the “eat, sleep, swim, repeat” mentality. But not to fret – swimmers should keep in mind that more opportunities for adventure can happen after they hang up their goggles.

Summer Sanders is living proof of this. Sanders, former USA Olympic swimmer, embarked on the adventure of a lifetime with her husband and two children. On August 16, they grabbed their visas and headed to Santander, Spain. She and her husband, Erik Scholopy (a USA World Cup alpine ski racer), always loved traveling and knew long before this trip that living abroad would be in their futures. From a young age, both Sanders and Schlopy traveled the world on their respective national teams, scratching the itch to explore.

On their honeymoon in New Zealand, they fell so in love with the people, culture and country, that they knew they wanted to spend more time there. But shortly after, they started a family and priorities shifted. When the kids got older, the couple decided it was time to show the kids the world. Because their kids had grown up in a dual immersion program with a Spanish emphasis, they decided to look at Spanish-speaking countries.


Photo Courtesy: Summer Sanders

As Sanders says, “The question then became, ‘Where?’ We quickly realized that our main priorities in choosing a location were formal Spanish and surfing. For us, there was only one area that would also allow us to see other parts of the world, and that’s Spain.” After deciding on Spain, she narrowed it down to two cities – Valencia or Santander. After visiting both locations, Sanders just knew that Santander was going to be her new home for the next year. She loved the location of the beach, the mild temperatures and the neighborhoods, comparing it to the San Francisco Bay Area: “It was a cross between Half Moon Bay and Ireland but with mountains.”

When asked about her favorite part of living abroad, Sanders says: “Well, we moved to Spain for three reasons: family, Spanish and surfing. My favorite part is all of the time we get to spend together as a family. It is such a gift, and we remind each other of that every day – even when the kids are annoyed by us. We love where we live.”


Photo Courtesy: Summer Sanders

Sanders describes her new environment and the language barrier:

Santander is Northern Spain just west of Bilbao, San Sebastian and the Basque region. We love the weather, as it reminds us of the Pacific Northwest. The weather has been awesome thus far, and the waves have been perfect. There is hardly anything better than surfing and skiing together as a family. We sit out on our boards and wait for the surf while talking and singing, and when we catch waves, it’s like we have a built-in cheering squad! We also love learning the language. It’s very difficult, but we thought it would be. We have seen some pretty awesome improvement in our conversations and the kids are unbelievable. Erik and I go to class three days a week for two hours. In the beginning it was more intensive with classes five days a week for four hours each class. We feel like we are getting so much better, but then a new past tense is introduced and our brains turn to mush!

Although Sanders has hung up her swim cap and replaced it with a wet suit the past few months, she has been drifting through the ocean waves and paddling over the beautiful waters of Spain. She says that this has been a great recovery for her shoulders after her reconstructive surgery on her right shoulder a few years back.


Photo Courtesy: Summer Sanders

Sanders’ kids – Skye and Spider – have, for the the most part, adjusted well to living in a new environment. They are on a soccorista (lifeguard) team, and everything is currently all about swimming. Spider even helped win the relay for his team this past weekend with a spit-fire of a finish. Both of the kids love the program and can’t wait for “spring to roll around so they can get into the ocean and paddle, but they are also super stoked to start going to more swim meets.”

Though Sanders’ time in Spain has only just begun, it has already been filled with life-long memories. To keep following her adventures abroad, check out her personal blog, Summer Sanders, or follow along on her Instagram, @summersanders_.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.


  1. avatar

    Love seeing Summer’s Instagram stories!

  2. avatar

    She is still my favorite Olympian.