Alfonso Flores (photo provided)

Alfonso Flores had a lot going for him when he graduated from high school in his native Venezuela. Academically at the top of his class, he’d also been a standout on his school’s swim team. But his homeland was reeling from economic collapse and political instability, and his future looked bleak.

“My country was falling apart,” Flores recalls, and his dream of becoming an engineer appeared out of reach.

Even so, he was determined to try. So were his parents. His mother prayed up a storm, and his father, himself an engineer, refused to let his son give up.

After a flurry of applications to U.S. schools with swimming scholarships, Flores accepted an offer from a two-year community college in Iowa. When his application for a student visa was denied, his dad stepped in.

“He made me go back,” Flores says. “And the Embassy interviewer the second time was a swimmer herself!” It seemed providential, for Flores got his visa and was on a plane to the U.S. within days.

Flores (second from right) with his mother, father and sister at home in Venezuela.

Flores thrived in Iowa, both in the classroom and the pool, but he still hoped to complete a four-year engineering degree. That’s when his Iowa coach rallied to his cause, exploring options and making calls.

“One day, he came into practice yelling about some place called Bethel University that’s starting a swim team,” says Flores. “Then I got a text from their new coach, Deb Thompson.”

It was providence at work again, and Flores eagerly accepted the invitation to come to Bethel – to continue his studies and to help launch the new swim program. Moreover, Bethel became a place for Flores to grow spiritually as well, and his time here has helped him recover a life of faith.

“Once I came to Bethel, everything changed,” he says.

A junior engineering and management major, Flores is already looking beyond graduation to how he can carry on in his beloved sport.

“I don’t see myself ever not swimming,” says Flores. “Maybe I’ll have the opportunity to coach someday and help others make their dreams come true.”