Q&A with Nepalese International Swimmer Sofia Shah

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Photo Courtesy: Sanjay Shah

By Catherine Gibbs, Swimming World College Intern.

Imagine growing up with nothing more than a warm, shallow hotel pool to hone your swimming skills yet be able to compete at the NCAA DI level in college. Does this sound like a leap? Not for international swimmer Sofia Shah. Originally Shah was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, yet was raised in Kathmandu, Nepal, by her Nepali father and Danish mother.

She swam for the high school SAISA team while attending Lincoln School with dreams of competing at the Olympics. However, swimmers in Nepal face many obstacles that most in America cannot fathom, such as the lack of adequate training facilities and distant commutes. To prepare for competitions, Nepalese swimmers either train in small hotel pools or travel abroad in search of training facilities. To promote more international swimming opportunities, FINA and Olympic Solidarity award scholarships to support certain athletes. Shah was one of the scholarship recipients, which enabled her to travel to regions around Nepal to train.

Afterward, she took the opportunity to attend the College of William and Mary in the U.S. her first year. She then transferred to Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., where she currently competes. She is also currently majoring in psychology.

Swimming World caught up with Shah to discuss her experience since coming to America to swim at Pepperdine and how it has elevated her swimming career overall.

Swimming World: How does training differ in America vs. back home in Nepal?

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Photo Courtesy: Funkita

Shah: Training in America verses back home in Nepal is very different. America has a foundation and structure as well as a passion for swimming that Nepal does not necessarily have to the same degree. The swimming association in Nepal does the best that it can with the funding it is given to provide facilities; however, with the lack of interest in the sport, gathering the funding for programs and facilities makes it difficult. America has structured programs with qualified coaching staff, equipment, and access to state of the art, year-round facilities that allow for swimmers to train all the time and train well. Nepal has tried to develop its program in this way; however, being a student and an athlete is not particularly easy there because schools don’t usually support athletics.

SW: What are the the biggest adjustments you have made when moving to the U.S.?

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Shah: The biggest adjustment I have made is not being able to see my family that often. I lean on them a lot for support. It does get difficult not having them in even remotely the same time zones. Although they are far, joining the swim team at Pepperdine University has given me that feeling of home and familial love.

SW: What has the experience of being on a Division 1 college swim team been like for you so far?

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Photo Courtesy: Sophia Anderson

Shah: So far, the experience of being on a Division 1 team has been life changing. I have been given the opportunity to excel in the sport I love with a team of ambitious and driven women. All while being able to attain an American college degree at Pepperdine. The most significant experiences I have had on this team are moments where my teammates became people I know who will be with me throughout the rest of my life. The community of support and encouragement that this team fosters allows us all to grow and achieve great things in and out of the classroom.

SW: What has being a college student-athlete at Pepperdine taught you?

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Photo Courtesy: Sofia Shah

Shah: Being a college student-athlete at Pepperdine has taught me a lot about time management skills and self-care. I have learned a lot about what I am capable of achieving. I have also learned what my limits are and not committing too much. This is because of how much time is required to balance school and swimming. I also gained a lot of patience and to trust the process. It does sometimes seem like you’re doing a lot of hard work and not getting much in return. However, in the end, it always turns out to be worth it.

SW: What was the experience like for you when you went back to Nepal in April to compete?

Shah: Going back to Nepal for Nepalese Nationals in April has been a whole new experience. It was because that was the first time I competed internationally after joining the team at Pepperdine. I felt significantly more motivated and more supported, even though my teammates were half a world away.

SW: How has training with the Pepperdine swim team help prepare you for your races in Nepal?

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Photo Courtesy: Sophia Anderson

Shah: The coaches have constructed a program that has helped me in becoming a better sprinter. I would also be much more focused on particular events, which is a structure I never really have had before. Going back to Nepal made me realize how excited I am for the future of the team at Pepperdine. I am fortunate to be part of this amazing family. I have a lot to improve on and I’m excited to see what I can do!

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

3 comments

  1. Noria Gaier

    Well done Sofia. Do not forget Miguel 😉

  2. avatar
    Bijen

    True. All facts no doubt

  3. avatar
    Stefani Ishikawa

    So proud of you Sofia! Great article Gibbs!

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