Editor's note: Heather Arseth will be swimming the 200-meter freestyle event on Monday, July 30. She will swim in Heat 1 against Aurelle Fanchette of Seychelles, Natthanan Junkrajang of Thailand, Joo Baek II of Korea and Danielle Villars of Sweden. Coverage will begin locally at 4 a.m. The 200-meter freestyle semifinals are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. local time, and the finals will be swam on Tuesday at 1:40 p.m. in Minnesota.
Heather Arseth is taking the road less traveled, but she hopes that path will still lead her to the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Arseth, a 2011 graduate, is eligible to swim for the Mauritius National Team because her mother, Caroline, is a native of the country. Arseth holds dual nationality and she left July 15 to train and compete for Mauritius for a month.
Mauritius, an island country off the coast of Madagascar, will send Arseth to the World Aquatic Championships in Shanghai, China, and the Indian Ocean Island Games in Seychellesbefore she returns home in mid-August.
But for Arseth, the opportunity to compete at the world level is both exciting and bittersweet. Because she doesn’t live in Mauritius, she said she’s felt resistance toward her competing there. The resistance is coming from the swim team there because she is from another country and could take a spot away from swimmers within Mauritius.
“It’s a really big opportunity, and I’m thankful for it,” she said. “It’s weird, because it’s not the way most people have the opportunity to get to the Olympics. If they do get the opportunity, it’s usually for the country they live in, versus the country their mother was born in.”
Still, that resistance is driving her to work even harder for the country. She has been to Mauritius three times—twice to swim in the past three years—and has become acquainted with her teammates and supporters overseas.
She said her mother’s side of the family speaks French, which is widely spoken in Mauritius, and she’s continuing to learn the language not only for her own heritage, but also to show she’s adapting to the country’s culture.
“It shows that I’m putting in the effort as well,” she said. “I want them to know I’m trying.”
Her effort in the pool is no secret.
Arseth was a standout for Wayzata and helped the Trojans finish fourth in the Class AA state meet last fall. At state, she took third in the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle individually and also helped the 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relays take first place.
She plans to swim at the University of Iowa this fall.
For the past 2 1/2 summers, Arseth has competed with the Aquajets Swim Club under coach Kate Lundsten. The Aquajets practice year-round in Eden Prairie. Lundsten said Arseth began pushing herself to new levels thanks to her work ethic in practice.
“She’s figured out that the place of comfort is not a friendly place, so she pushes herself beyond that,” Lundsten said. “She’s added a lot of components to her swimming since she’s joined the Aquajets.”
Lundsten is a decorated coach of 20 years. She said Arseth would be her first Olympic athlete in the six seasons in which she's been leading the Aquajets.
Arseth said her main goal is not individual accolades at the Olympic games. If she’s there, she’ll be competing for her country, not herself.
“I think a lot of them know I’m going there to help,” Arseth said. “The teammates I have, they’re taking it really well. It’s hard, but I will always have people there to back me up.”
For now, her main goal is to focus on what she can control, and that’s her performance in the pool.
“It’s bittersweet for me,” Arseth said. “I’m excited, but at the same time I don’t want to make anyone angry or anything.”