Rafael Alfaro decided in the year 2000 that the Olympics just might be something he wanted to work toward. After countless hours of swimming, perfecting his technique and honing his concentration and motivation, Rafael achieved his dream when he competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
“Being there was just amazing. It’s hard to wrap your head around the fact that you are the center of the world’s attention right now,” Alfaro said. “All eyes of the world are watching you. It was the greatest experience of my life.”
Only Alfaro and one other swimmer qualified to compete in the Olympics for El Salvador, but Alfaro narrowly came out on top with the most FINA points, which qualified him to compete.
“I would say it was more exciting when I found out that I made the Olympics and knew that I finally achieved my goal,” Alfaro said.
Alfaro first began swimming when he was seven years old.
“My parents wanted me to be a swimmer, and I needed something to burn off energy because I was diagnosed with ADHD,” Alfaro said.
Interestingly enough, this Olympic athlete didn’t like swimming at first.
“As I got better I started enjoying it,” Alfaro said. “The pools were really cold and I didn’t like the cold water.”
El Salvador has not been widely known for producing athletes in club sports. Soccer is the most common sport in Latin America; however, Alfaro was so submerged with swimming he never identified with any other sports.
Swimming popularity in El Salvador has been declining in the past 10 years. Budget and administrative problems make it difficult to get the quality of equipment and training required to produce high performing athletes.
After the Olympics, Alfaro has become more mature about what it means to be a competitive swimmer and takes life outside swimming more seriously. He took a year-long break from swimming after the Olympics to rest and explore other hobbies outside of the pool.
“I did other training that would benefit me for swimming in the future like weightlifting and learning how to train smarter,” Alfaro said.
In addition, Alfaro enjoys golfing, biking, surfing and snowboarding.
Now in 2013, Alfaro is using his experience gained from swimming for the El Salvadorian swim team to succeed on the Cougars’ men swimming team.
“You can’t really compare swimming for college and the Olympics,” Alfaro said. “College swimming is also really exciting, and the BYU swimmers here are like my family.”
Alfaro is swimming the 200IM and the 400IM events and is working toward making NCAA this season. He also will continue to swim for El Salvador for major international competitions and is toying with the idea of going to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“He doesn’t like to lose. He has a great competitive edge to him,” head swim coach John Brooks said.
Alfaro is the middle child in his family with one older sister and a younger brother. His mother attended BYU, and his uncle swam for the BYU men’s team. Alfaro is Catholic, but BYU hasn’t been that big of a change for him.
“My first year it was weird,” Alfaro said. “I didn’t like BYU my freshmen year, and I thought it was boring. I didn’t really know how to have fun, but sophomore year I figured it out.”
Alfaro is majoring in political science and is working toward getting a Master’s of Business Administration.