Dedication and Determination: BYU swim’s Luigi Riva

It’s daytime in high school in Milan. A typical day, except freshman high schooler Luigi Riva is in a room surrounded by his mom, dad, and the high school director. Not where you hope to be.

As he listens to them speak, the topic revolves around his exploits. They talk about his behavior and poor grades, and he is warned that, due to this, he could be kicked out of school.

Riva notices the tears and struggle this brings to his parents, and in that moment he says to himself, “Okay, I need to change.”

Even today, as a junior at BYU, Riva says most of his motivation comes from wanting to make his parents proud of him. They motivate him to wake up at five in the morning, to swim fast, and even to study till late at night.

Riva grew up playing soccer in Italy and idolizing the winning mentality and consistency of his favorite star, Cristiano Ronaldo. But to him, his dad was always his real hero, playing a huge role in his athletic success.

The Riva Family

After his local soccer club fell into bankruptcy, Riva tried different sports and decided to make the switch to swimming to be with some of his friends. His dad would show up to his practices to watch him and never skipped a meet.

“He would keep talking to me about ways to get better mentally,” said Riva. “He would bring up a lot of examples of athletes from other sports, emphasizing the importance of hard training, dedication, and determination.”

This knowledge would come to be important in Riva’s first few years on his swim team.

“I was one of the slowest guys on the team,” explained Riva. “I was seeing my friends succeeding and achieving results, and I wanted to start winning, so I started to put effort in practice.”

He would usually spend his time messing around with his friends, but as he dedicated his time, Riva began to become a very proficient swimmer, getting invited to swim for the Junior Italian Championships, and winning first in nationals for the 50 free.

Unfortunately, after the celebration of the championship, complacency began to set in.

“I won the 50 free and was like, ‘okay. I’m fast now, so I can stop practicing hard and take care of my body.’ So I stopped putting in the effort, putting my 100% everything into practice, and I got worse,” said Riva.

Adding to this, the 2020 European Championship that he was supposed to attend was canceled due to Covid, leaving him frustrated and without any goals on the horizon. This led to two years without winning a single event.

Early in those two years Riva was recruited by universities in the USA. He committed to BYU in November 2020 and began swimming in the 2021 season.

Once Riva came over to BYU, he had to remember again what it was like, when he had just begun swimming. He set small goals each day and followed his dad’s advice of keeping in mind the dedication and determination required to succeed.

That training all came to a head in November 2023 this season when Riva once again swam his 50 free in the Mizzou Invitational. 

Riva made it to the final in the 50 free of the meet, but had one of the slowest times of the swimmers with a 20.26 prelim heading into the final. No one was expecting what would come. He got on the blocks in preparation for the race, thinking about his stroke and techniques he had employed so many times before.

“You know what you need to do,” he thought.

Riva dove into the water, ripped past his opponents, and made a quick turn. When he touched the wall at the end, he saw 19.59 and realized he had just won the race. 

“I couldn’t believe it. I was just so happy because I’ve been here at BYU for three years and never went below twenty seconds in my whole life,” said Riva.

He had cut off a whole .67 seconds off his preliminary time six hours earlier. 

When he got out of the pool, his teammates celebrated and gave him hugs, followed by him immediately giving a call to his parents and sister.

“They were super happy. They were like, ‘you deserve it! You’ve been working so hard!’ To me, I got more satisfaction not when I saw the times but when I celebrated with my family and closest friends. It made me so happy.”

Riva learned from his past and didn’t stop there. He kept training hard in preparation to beat rival Utah this past month. At the meet he once again improved his 50 free time to set the pool record of the Richards Building at 19.53.

It’s been years since that visit with the high school director and his parents, but the support his parents have given has endured.

“My parents always believed in me even if, as I said, I was a tough kid. They showed me a lot of love during my career, supporting me in tough moments. When I was failing they were sad with me, but at the same time they also tried to find solutions to get better. They always believed in me, even when nobody believed in me, me included,” said Riva

Riva and the BYU swim team continue their season at the Big 12 championships starting February 27 in Morgantown, West Virginia.

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