From taking three chemistry classes before the age of 16 to swimming for a national title against the best swimmers in America, Julian Iturbe ’21 continues to rise to the challenges that being an international student athlete presents.

Iturbe grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, with his parents and his sister. As a junior on the swim team, he continues to push Calvin to new heights. He holds several Calvin records and anchors many key relays.

He began swimming lessons at his parents’ direction. “We never thought swimming would be such a large part of our lives,” Iturbe said. Swimming in Venezuela would prove to be one of the first challenges. Venezuela’s main sports are baseball and basketball. Iturbe went a different direction, swimming for his middle and high schools.

His first exciting move after graduating was to join the Azura swim team in Davie, Florida. Iturbe experienced the highest level of training there, working with athletes preparing for the Pan-American Games and the Olympics.

When searching for college options, Iturbe had very specific requirements in mind. “I always wanted to be a chemical engineer,” Iturbe said. “The list narrowed even more when I considered swimming.”

Calvin was one of the few institutions that had both. “Coach Dan [Gelderloos] was the deciding factor that made Calvin stand out in that group. He understood my situation, and he helped me get academic scholarships so I could come here,” Iturbe said.

Calvin’s intentional commitment to Christian faith in all walks of life was one of the biggest differences for Iturbe to navigate. “When I lived in Venezuela, we believed in God, but faith wasn’t as much a part of our lives as it is at Calvin,” Iturbe said. The swim team’s Christian community helped welcome him through the transition.

The language and culture at Calvin also challenged Iturbe early in his college career. “It was really hard to study in a different language that was not my own,” Iturbe said. “In the beginning, I struggled to get good grades and overcome presentations and essays.”

Calvin swimming has led and supported Iturbe as his times continue to drop in the pool. As for Iturbe, he aims to become the NCAA DIII national champion in the 200-meter freestyle. (The national meet was canceled due to COVID-19.) He already holds school records in the 100-, 200-, and 500-meter freestyle events.

It all comes full circle each time he lines up to race: “When I’m in the blocks before a race, I think of all the people that I’m representing and that I care about.”

“What I’ve found is that the Christian community that supports Calvin is very loving,” Iturbe added. “They don’t care if you make mistakes or don’t do things right, they will always love you for your efforts and for who you are.”