For some athletes, the shift from high school athletics to collegiate competition can be tough. But for freshman freestyle swimmer Nilza Costa, the transition has been seamless.
Costa, originally raised in Olho D’agua, Brazil, came to the United States during her freshman year of high school with an established love for swimming.
Falling in love with the sport at an early age, Costa said she started swimming as a reflex to save her own life.
“When I was 2, I actually fell in my pool back in Brazil, and I almost died,” she said. “But then I started swimming.”
Costa said, however, that swimming didn’t come naturally right away.
“I hated it at first, and I was really bad,” she said. “I used to cry, but my grandma supported me even when I was really bad. I remember my first meet was with eight girls, and I came in last.”
But she said this loss helped her swimming career grow. From this eighth-place finish, Costa began to enjoy the sport, and her passion and attitude to compete pushed her to swim competitively.
After swimming for top club teams in Brazil, such as Universidade Santa Cecilia and the Corinthians, Costa brought her talent to the United States mainly because her parents wanted her to receive a high school education in America. However, swimming paved the way for her to come, as she participated in a program in Florida that housed nine international swimmers with a renowned Brazilian coach. She said being around other Brazilian swimmers made her transition to a new country easier.
While in Florida, she swam on her high school team and club teams, which included Azura Florida Aquatics and the Davie Nadadores Swim Team.
While there, Costa swam for the Sagemont School, a private preparatory school, during her final three years of high school. Earning the role of captain during her senior year, she also received MVP honors as a junior and sophomore as well as a trip to the state championships.
However, Costa said it was not through high school competition, but club swimming that she found more success and that helped her transition more easily to college swimming.
“My club is almost the same as college,” she said. “We would go lifting, have morning practices, doubles and swimming, so my club team helped.”
While she said her transition in the pool was flawless, Costa still works on assimilating with the American culture. She said she has especially had to adjust to the food, which is important for her as an athlete.
“The food [in Brazil] is way better for me because here, I have to control what I’m eating and how much I’m eating it,” she said.
The blizzardy Ithaca weather is also one of the more dramatic changes Costa said she has seen since her move to the States. Coming from a section of eastern Brazil that peaks at about 90–100 degrees year-round, Costa said the weather is one of the major differences between the countries.
As for aquatics, the transition to swimming in the U.S. continues to occur as she adapts to new competition, practices, teammates and coaches.
Costa said practices and competition are still an ongoing transition. Coming from Brazil, she said practices are very team-orientated, and instructions from a head coach are essential to the practice. But in the U.S., practices are very individually based, without so much reliance on a head coach’s instructions.
As for coaches and teammates, she said she is becoming more comfortable with her U.S. surroundings.
“When I was back in Brazil, my first club coach was Brazilian and my second was Italian,” she said. “But here was my first time having an American coach and American friends, and it’s different, but I love it.”
Costa said she has grown close to her teammates, especially the upperclassmen who have guided her in the pool and beyond.
Senior teammate Kylie Bangs said Costa brings an outstanding work ethic to the team.
“She makes everything a lot easier,” Bangs said. “We’ll be doing a hard set, but you know she’s going to work hard, and you want to be next to her because she’ll make you work hard, too.”
In addition to her swimming abilities, senior freestyle swimmer Mariel Kunnapas said Costa brings humor and personality to the team as well.
“Every time I look at her, I just laugh,” she said. “Every time she says something, it’s funny. She’s a great teammate.”
She’s also developed a great relationship with her head coach Paula Miller, who said she is a complete package as an athlete and a teammate.
“Nilza brings everything to the team,” she said. “Attitude, humor, good work ethic, obviously talent. She’s really fun to have around and is a great person as well.”