From competing on NC State’s men’s swim team to racing in the 2016 Summer Olympics for the Danish Olympic team, Søren Dahl, a junior studying communication and political science, has had a much different college experience than the average 22- year-old.
Originally from Copenhagen, Denmark, Dahl began swimming at age 10 because swimming is required in Danish schools. However, it wasn’t until he was 16 years old, when he said he finally became good at swimming, that he realized he wanted to pursue swimming and take it seriously.
“I interviewed with different schools, but I decided to swim at NC State because of the coaches and research I did on NC State,” said Dahl. “Interviewing with coaches was challenging because it’s hard to figure out what you want when you don’t know what you’re looking for. But the NC State coaches talked to me a lot and helped me figure out what I wanted.”Because Denmark’s schooling doesn’t allow students to combine academics and athletics, Dahl decided he needed to look elsewhere to pursue his passion for swimming while still getting an education. After deciding the United States would be the ideal place for him to continue his education and athletic career, he turned to recruiting websites and interviewed with different coaches to find his perfect fit—NC State University.
Dahl adjusted to his new life in the United States and said he couldn’t be happier with his decision to attend NC State University. He has excelled on the men’s swim team, and his teammates honored him by voting him captain.
“The most challenging part of being a student-athlete is finding time to excel in both swimming and academics,” said Dahl. “It can be hard if a meet is the same time a difficult assignment is due or if a lot of assignments are due during a period of hard training. You have to be super proactive and look ahead.”
Dahl qualified for the 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay team and then went to the European championships to try different swimming techniques and begin his Olympic training. After two months of intense training, Dahl flew to Rio, Brazil, for the 2016 Summer Olympics.Last year, Dahl decided to try out for the Danish Olympic swimming team after swimming well at the ACC and NCAA relays with the NC State swim team.
“When I was in the Olympic Village and saw all of the athletes wearing their team gear and representing their country, I knew that it was real and I was at the Olympics,” said Dahl.
Dahl attended the opening ceremonies with his Danish teammates and said the opening ceremony was what he remembers most about the games because the stadium was so big and there was so much going on at once.
As the days passed and his event arrived, Dahl could only think of one thing as he stepped up onto the starting block.
“I had never been shaking so much. I just kept thinking don’t jump in early,” said Dahl. “But once I was in the water, I enjoyed the experience and swam really, really, really well.”
Even though his team placed 12th and only the top eight teams went on to the final, Dahl was overjoyed with his individual time. But most importantly, his experience was memorable because of all the support from his friends, family and teammates.
“There is a lot of pressure on you when you’re competing, but because of all that pressure, when you end up succeeding, it is so much more rewarding,” said Dahl. “I was so happy to share that success with my family and friends.”
Someone would probably think the Olympics would be his greatest achievement, but Dahl believes it is more important to experience and achieve goals as a team.
“I’m grateful for the Olympics, but I’m really proud of the goals we have accomplished as a team at State,” said Dahl.
When asked how he has become so successful at such a young age, Dahl struggled to find an answer because in Danish culture it is customary to remain private and not be the center of attention. This reflects the Danish word Jantelov. “Jante” roughly translates to “not supposed to talk about” and “lov” translates to law.
“In Denmark, there is a word, Jantelov, that means you shouldn’t think that you are special,” said Dahl. “It took me a while to open up during interviews and talk about myself. I guess that is one cultural difference between Denmark and the U.S.”
Being a student-athlete can be challenging and time-consuming, but Dahl makes sure to find time to watch his favorite TV shows, which include Game of Thrones and Stranger Things. He grew up watching American television shows and noted that Danish and American pop culture is not much different.
As for his future, Dahl thinks it is time to be done with swimming and time to try new things.
“My whole life has been around swimming, so I am ready to try something new,” said Dahl. “I’m not sure exactly what I want to do after I graduate, but I want to stay in the U.S. I’m thinking about maybe going to grad school or law school.”
No matter what he decides to do, he hopes to find something where he can use one of the most important lessons he learned in swimming: If you work hard, you are going to be rewarded.