Freshman Sotia Neophytou was thrown into the pool and swimming at the age of three. Fifteen years later, Neophytou found herself diving into the pool in Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics.
Born and raised in Limassol, Cyprus, Neophytou has enjoyed swimming since she was first thrown into the pool. Her mother was a swimmer, she said, and she wanted to be just like her. As she grew up, Neophytou dreamed of going to the Olympics.
“It’s always been a dream for me to go to the Olympics, but after the 2012 Olympics in London, that’s when I decided I had to go,” she said.
Going for gold was not her only motivation, however. Neophytou said she also wanted to be an Olympian so she could meet Michael Phelps.
Cyprus received an invitation to send two swimmers, one male and one female, to Rio for the Olympics. Neophytou received the female invite after having met standard qualifying times in the 100-meter butterfly. When she heard the news, Neophytou said, it was surreal.
“I was very, very emotional at first. I couldn’t get it to sink in. I think it took me two weeks to finally let it all sink in and then from there, I just focused on getting prepared and training.”
The training and preparing were tough, according to Neophytou, but well worth it.
“I did a lot of high—altitude training, which really improved my endurance. I had two workouts a day, whether it was in the pool or the gym,” she said.
While Neophytou was swimming in Rio, Head Swimming Coach Jason Hite made sure to record her swimming event both on his television and his phone.
“Of course I was going to watch all of the swimming, but I made sure to watch her specifically, too,” Hite said. “As her coach, at that time her future coach, I wanted to see what she swam like and see what I could do to help her improve, not only with our team but looking forward to 2020 for the Olympics in Tokyo. My hope is to see her go there, and my job over the next four years is working and helping her make it there.”
Neophytou said that she would get extremely nervous before an event, but said the excitement also was indescribable. Her favorite part of the Olympics, however, was the Opening Ceremony.
“I got so excited when they called Cyprus, and everyone was applauding,” Neophytou said.
Meeting several famed Olympians, such as her idol Phelps and also Ryan Lochte, also was one of her Rio highlights.
After Rio, Neophytou headed to the United States to the University of Indianapolis. The UIndy team has several other Cypriots on the team, which was how Hite first connected with Neophytou.
“I talked with her and her father on Skype and through email, and I did the same with her coach several times as well. It was just a process of developing a relationship and seeing if this was a right fit for her,” Hite said. “She’s a very nice girl. She’s an accomplished swimmer. She’s obviously been to the biggest stage, and to have that experience on this team is definitely an asset for us.”
Since stepping on campus, Neophytou said, that she has felt very welcomed and has enjoyed training with the team.
Hite said that Neophytou has adjusted well over the last few weeks, starting off as a shy teammate who would only communicate with other Cypriots on the team then slowly breaking out of her comfort zone.
“I’ve seen her start to interact a lot more with some of the team, and it’s still early on. I think it will be a good thing, and she’ll be a Hound, and she’ll be integrated with the rest of the team from around the world soon,” Hite said.
Neophytou said she is excited to see what happens in the next four years and hopes other Greyhound athletes can attain their own goals too, like her own that began at the age of three.
“I hope all the athletes here at UIndy are also able to achieve their dreams,” Neophytou said. “If their dream is the Olympics also, I hope they can get there like I did.”