Across the Water: From Sweden to Miami
by: Darci Miller
Sofia Johansson and My Fridell are making waves for the University of Miami's swim team, continuing a friendship born four thousand miles away, on their old club team at home in Sweden.
Johansson, a senior, always wanted to come to the United States for college.
"In high school, I got in touch with Christie [Shefchunas, head swimming coach]," she said. "And I just talked to a few schools in the U.S. and I really loved Christie and her program, so I decided to come here."
This decision ended up having an impact on Fridell, now a freshman, when it was time for her to choose her own collegiate path.
"I thought, 'okay, the USA sounds good,'" she said. "And I knew Sofia was here, and she loved Florida and she loved UM, so I was like 'okay, let's go there!'"
In Sweden, which is more of a winter sport powerhouse, swimming becomes much more difficult to continue at the college level. There are no college swim teams; swimmers can only continue to compete for club teams, and it's extremely hard to swim and attend college at the same time. Unsurprisingly very few attempt to do both.
For both Johansson and Fridell, who have been swimming since their parents enrolled them in baby swim classes, quitting the sport has never been an option.
"I've been swimming for twenty years and I'm never going to stop!" Fridell said.
"I don't think I could ever stop," Johansson added. "It'd be weird if we just quit. Some people do, and I think, 'but you can't quit swim! You do it every day, what are you going to do now?!'"
Both girls embraced their transition to American culture and life at UM with open arms.
"It was a little hard in the beginning because of the language, just to understand everything in class, but you get used to it. It's getting better every day," said Fridell, who occasionally wakes up in the morning thinking in Swedish.
Though both miss Swedish food and living close to their families, there's one thing about Sweden that neither girl misses: the cold.
"I like snow, though!" Fridell said. "But in southern Sweden, where we live, there's not a real winter. This is so much better."
"I hate the cold weather," she said. "I love Miami."
And it shows. Johansson's name appears throughout the UM record books, including the chool record in the 100-yard breaststroke. At the 2012 ACC Championships, she not only won the event but set a new ACC record and became the first athlete to swim the distance in under a minute (59.81).
For Fridell, having Johansson on the team before her was a huge benefit.
"It's very good for me because when I came, Fia knew everything," she said with a laugh.
Johansson mentions a close friendship with former UM swimmer Annika Saarnak, who was from Estonia, before being joined by Fridell.
"I really enjoy having My here," said Johansson. "It feels good having another European girl here!"
Though this is Johansson's final year at Miami, she says that her time here has taught her a lot.
"I came as a girl but I think I'm going to leave as a woman," she said. "I've realized so many things about myself and about what I can do, and just what I'm capable of doing. And there's this family feeling, with the team especially. Everybody's close, everybody can talk about everything, and everyone is so friendly. So I feel like I've learned a lot, and I keep learning new stuff every day, still!"
Upon graduation, Johansson's goal is to continue swimming and work as an investigator for the FBI. But are the Olympics in her future?
"That would be awesome. That's always been my big dream. But I don't know, we'll see," she said. "I mean, it's four years from now, so we'll see what happens."
Fridell still has nearly four full years of collegiate swimming ahead of her. When asked about her goals, she shrugs.
"I'm not a goal girl," she said with a smile. "But I like to have fun, and when I have fun, I swim fast!"