To celebrate International Education Week, WRUF is publishing profiles of UF student-athletes all week.
The journey and transition from Germany to Gainesville is not easy.
That is unless you’re Florida Gators swimmer Eric Friese. Friese made the move from Potsdam, Germany, just outside of Berlin, to Gainesville to swim in college for the Gators. And within a day, Friese knew he found his home.
“From the first day it just felt super natural,” Friese said. “Nothing was forced.”
Friese said the friends he made immediately upon his arrival already feel like long-time friends. And he credits Florida’s support staff for making sure he was happy.
Growing up, Friese traveled often across his home country and continent for swim meets. Being away from home is nothing new.
However, he had never spent an extended period of time away from home before moving to Florida. Before he stepped foot on campus, this idea seemed a bit daunting.
“I was a little bit scared,” Friese said. “But once I got here, I got to know the guys and it turned into a home for me.”
This past summer, Friese left home once again. This time to a place that every athlete in his position strives to get to; the Olympics.
Friese believes he would not have made it to such a pinnacle if not for the environment on Florida’s team.
“[At Florida], I’m training with the best of the best in the world,” said Friese, an 11-time All-American with the Gators.
“I know that when I can compete with them, I’m in the big league,” he said. “That’s world-class.”
In Tokyo, Friese competed for Germany in the 4×100 Free Relay and finished 16th.
Dressel, a former Gator and a seven-time Olympic gold medalist, still trains in Gainesville. His impact on Friese has been tremendous.
“You get better just from being around him,” Friese said.
But getting comfortable around someone Friese had looked up to for so long was not easy at first.
“The first time I met Caeleb, I was super nervous,” he said. “I felt like a fan.”
Stars Align for Friese Landing in Gainesville
A star like Dressel put Florida on the map for Friese. Before Dressel, it was former Gator Ryan Lochte, a 12-time Olympic medalist, and in Friese’s words, “one of my idols.”
Friese said he did a school presentation on Lochte in middle school.
Little did he know he would soon meet and talk to his idol in Gainesville. Because of Lochte, Friese had an immediate interest in Florida and looking into the school further, the many swimming names he recognized made Florida feel like the perfect fit.
Friese, ranked the 30th-best prospect in the 2019 class, sent just one email to Head Coach Anthony Nesty thinking little of it. Though Friese had no connection to UF, Nesty realized Friese’s talent and swiftly responded and set up Zoom calls to acclimate him to the staff. Before long, Friese was on campus, chatting it up with his idols.
“If Nesty never responded maybe I would have looked into other schools,” he said. “But since he responded, Florida was always my number one.”
Moving nearly 5,000 miles away is never an easy decision. But for a chance to meet his idols, swim with them and train at the highest level, making the far trip to the University of Florida was a choice Friese does not regret. Now it’s time to train for Paris 2024.