In 2016, Naomi Ruele made history and became Botswana’s first Olympic swimmer. At the same time, she became the second woman and first swimmer to represent the country in the Olympics, and the first FIU swimmer to compete as a current student-athlete. “When I found out I was in the Olympics I was very overwhelmed and very excited,” she says in an interview with American Sports Network. “I’m very proud to be from Botswana and I’ve always loved my country...I’m really appreciative but especially excited to compete under my country’s flag.” This accomplishment came shortly after her 2015-2016 season swimming at Florida International University, during which she was named Conference USA Swimmer of the Year. Her season was stellar—in 12 times swimming the 50-meter freestyle she finished either first or second each time, five of those times clocking in at under twenty-three seconds. We challenge you to find a fish with a better record.
It was always Naomi’s dream to swim in the Olympics, her love originating in the Botswana hotel where her mother worked. Ruele would spend her time in the pool while her mother tended to her duties. “Once I was dropped into the pool, I didn’t want to get out. I wanted to know everything about swimming,” Ruele said in an interview with FIU Magazine. “I really liked being able to move in the water smoothly, and it came naturally to me. When I try something I have to get it right.” Just two years prior, a shoulder surgery almost derailed her dreams, but she remained focused on her goal and rehabilitated herself to one of the best seasons in her program’s history. Ruele did not advance to the semifinals in Rio, but she did clock one of her best times, at 26.23 seconds. She still holds Botswana’s national records in the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle, as well as 50-meter and 100-meter backstroke. She’s continues to swim at FIU, and has a chance to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.