Baton Rouge, LA (U-WIRE) -- Many students may not describe Baton Rouge as a fast-paced city with abundant resources, but that's exactly what one swimmer says.
Then again, most LSU students aren't from Africa and have not been chosen to represent their nation in the 2008 Olympics based on their performance at LSU.
Heather Brand has.
Brand, wildlife and ecology senior, is from Harare, Zimbabwe - almost 9,000 miles from Baton Rouge. She is captain of the LSU swimming and diving team.
Besides the cultural differences she has taken in, Brand has excelled in sports on a worldwide level, learned the value of being part of a team and found her other passion - wildlife.
"People think it's funny when I describe Louisiana as fast-paced, but compared to where I'm from, it is. Everything here is fast," Brand said. "I was amazed when I first went into Wal-Mart and saw all the products they offered."
Last year, Brand was the only Lady Tiger swimmer to make it to the NCAA National Championships. This past summer, she competed in the FINA World Championships in Montreal, Canada.
"It brought me such pride to represent my country knowing that the reason I'm there is because of LSU. I want people to see where I've come from so they'll come to LSU too," Brand said.
While swimming at the World Championships, Brand met incoming freshmen and future LSU teammate Berit Aljand. Aljand was also competing and representing her native country, Estonia.
"I was so excited when I met her. LSU had created a connection between the two of us in a completely different part of the world," Brand said.
Aljand and Brand are two of seven LSU swimmers from other countries.
Brand hasn't been home in two and a half years, so she said her team has become her family away from home. She will spend Thanksgiving with the team, the way she has spent most holidays in the United States.
"Back home, swimming was mainly an individual sport. Here it is all about the team," Brand said. "I thrive in a team environment, and they really are like my family."
Brand's teammates have also come to appreciate her.
"The younger athletes look up to her," said assistant swimming coach Dave Geyer. "They see her leadership and respect her both in and out of the water."
Brand was born in South America and moved to Zimbabwe when she was 12. She started swimming when she was four and entered competitions at the age of eight. She ran triathlons, played field hockey and was involved in diving and swimming throughout high school.
"I was recruited in high school and offered a scholarship to LSU. I took it and I've never been more happy about a decision in my life. Everyone knows if you want to continue a sport and get better, you come to America," Brand said.
The Zimbabwe Olympic Committee earlier this month selected Brand as a finalist for the 2008 Olympic games.
"I think she is now ranked in the top 20 in the world and she deserves to be part of Team Zimbabwe 2008," ZOC chief executive Robert Mutsauki said.
Brand is also one of five Zimbabwe athletes in the world up for a scholarship to continue training in the United States for the 2008 Olympics. If she gets the scholarship, she will continue to train here at LSU with the team.
Swimming is not her only passion. She is a wildlife and ecology major and has big plans for a future involving wild animals.
"Both of my dreams came true when I came to LSU. I was able to swim and learn about wildlife. Those are my two favorite things," Brand said.
As a two-time SEC Academic Honor Roll member and a member of the Dean's List, Brand takes her studies very seriously.
"I appreciate what I've learned in America and at LSU," Brand said. "Imagine what I could do with the knowledge I've gained here in a third world country,"
Brand said her dream is to open an animal rehabilitation center and to educate Africans on the dangers of hunting and poaching.
Brand gives credit to her parents and her faith for her accomplishments.
"Before every race I write the words 'Mom, Dad and God' on the starting blocks," Brand said. "I never forget why I'm here."
LSU has meant endless opportunities to Brand.
"I'm very thankful to America for giving me a chance. It's very humbling when I go back home," she said. "Sometimes I feel like I take the resources for granted in America. I feel like you can get and do anything in America."
LSU may have found a recruiter in Brand.
"From what I have accomplished here, people back home recognize me and look up to me. My goal is to bring other students to LSU to do the same. To make it to the Olympics and swim with other LSU swimmers," Brand said.
The swim team will start the first day of the Texas A&M Invitational today in College Station. The next home match for swimming and diving is the Bengal Tiger Christmas Invitational on Dec. 2 in the LSU Natatorium.
(C) 2004 The Daily Reveille via U-WIRE