From South Africa to Southern Illinois, Ruard van Renen Has Historic NCAAs

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

From South Africa to Southern Illinois, Ruard van Renen Has Historic NCAAs

Ruard van Renen did his research before deciding on Southern Illinois as his college destination.

The small-town feel of the Missouri Valley Conference school met the South African backstroker’s specifications. He arrived in Carbondale with an idea of what to expect. Figuring out what a Saluki was, though, took a little more time.

“Definitely not,” van Renen said last week at NCAAs, about his foreknowledge of SIU’s obscure mascot.

Even so, he’s quickly become one of the most accomplished Salukis in program history thanks to a stellar NCAAs in Minneapolis last week.

Van Renen made a pair of B finals, finishing ninth in the 100 back and 13th in the 200 back. His 13 points tied the Salukis for 28th place. He’s the first Southern Illinois swimmer to reach NCAAs since 2005 and the first to score since 1995.


Ruard van Renen; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The freshman hopes it’s just the start for his journey in the U.S.

“It’s a big jump for the program,” he said. “I knew coming into the program that I had certain goals, and I definitely feel like we’ve exceeded those goals. It’s kind of an ego boost, but it’s keeping your head deflated, feet on the ground. It will boost me at training and just to become better.”

Van Renen opted for a path that is no guarantee for a top South African. Elite athletes from that country split fairly evenly in opting for American colleges or staying home to train. Some, like last year’s NCAA champion Matt Sates of Georgia, come to the States but don’t stay long.

Understanding that, Van Renen sought a situation that would work for him. The native of Durbanville attended boarding school, so he was used to being away from home. In finding SIU, he identified the small-town feel of Carbondale as preferrable to a big city, and finding the right setting has eased his adjustment.

“I’ve got friends back home that made the transition to the U.S.,” he said. “The easiest way to put it is it’s just a mindset. I was in boarding school back home, so I was away from home for five years. Going from South Africa to the U.S., going that far away from home, wasn’t the first big shock to me. They told me to keep calm, try to make new friends and that’s what everyone told me, and to do you.”

The comfort has translated to improvement. He owns SIU records in both backstroke events – 44.67 in the 100 and 1:39.73 in the 200. He was “a little disappointed” not to make the A final of the 100 back, entering with the seventh best time. His prelims swim of 45.17 landed 10th, outside the A final by .12 seconds. He made up for it by blasting a best time of 44.67 to boss the consolation final.

The 200 back on the final day also offered consolation, van Renen rising from the 31st seed to 13th place.

One of the challenges van Renen sought in the U.S. played out at NCAAs. Prelims at South African meets can often be a formality for someone of van Renen’s caliber. The experience of fighting through prelims and having to be ready from the start is something he hopes will pay off at bigger meets down the line.

Next on his list of goals is the World University Games in the fall. He’ll head to South Africa in April to contest trials. With Pieter Coetze ahead of him, he’s realistic about where he stands in the South African backstroking hierarchy. But van Renen hopes the experience and confidence gleaned from NCAAs will set him up for the summer.

“Obviously we’ve got one of the fastest backstrokers in the world at the moment in Pieter Coetzee, so it’s not that I’m going to go back home and it’s going to be just me,” he said. “… I feel like I’m going to go back home and hopefully I can give him a run for his money this year, and hopefully see some big times.”

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1 year ago

SASSA stands for South African Social Security Agency. It is a government agency in South Africa that is responsible for the administration of social grants to eligible citizens. Social grants are payments made by the government to provide assistance to those in need, such as the elderly, disabled, and children from low-income families. SASSA manages a range of social grants, including old age grants, disability grants, child support grants, foster child grants, and more. The agency is also responsible for determining eligibility for social grants and ensuring that the grants are distributed in a fair and efficient manner

sassa application

Last edited 1 year ago by shahraiz
Emmanuel Rusford
Emmanuel Rusford
1 year ago

Congratulations to Ruard van Renen – what a great performance !!! – The sky is not the limit – Your Attitude determines Your Altitude – keep it up – keep focused and don’t be derailed – realisation of your dream is insight – good job ! Emmanuel & Enoch Rusford (Queensland, Australia)

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