Just two years into college and one Saint Peter’s University athlete will be living the reality not even he dreamt would happen.
“If someone told me that, I would’ve never thought it was true like, ‘No, it won’t happen,’” said Troy Pina, a sophomore Peacocks swimmer. “Now that it’s happening, it’s pretty cool.”
Pina, of Seekonk, Massachusetts, and his siblings Latroya and Jayla, were selected to represent the first ever Cape Verde National Team and will compete in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The Pinas’ swimming talent surfaced on Facebook where Cape Verdean athletic officials couldn’t look away. The officials reached out to Latroya -- through private message -- but her and her family’s initial reaction was that it was fake.
“We used to talk about it often and it used to be a joke like, ‘Oh, we could go for Cape Verde, we could,’” he said. “And then, like, when we got the message it was becoming real.”
Just as college students prepared to hit the school supply sections, Pina had just started preparing himself for something that goes beyond notebooks and pens. He and his siblings competed in the 2018 African Swimming Championships -- from Sept. 10 to 16 -- in Algiers, Algeria.
The trio went against swimmers from around the globe such as Egypt, Kenya and Rwanda. Though they weren’t able to crack the top six, Pina -- who never traveled outside the country -- hopped on a 13-hour flight for a reason not many people do.
“It was my first time,” Pina said. “(And) I haven’t even been to Cape Verde yet.”
But it doesn’t end there. The 5’8” athlete is also eligible for the 2019 summer World Championships as well as the Sal 2019 African Beach Games.
Yet the SPU swimmer didn’t always see himself racing in the waters -- especially alongside his sisters in international competitions.
He followed in Latroya’s footsteps and took his first dive into the waters when he was five years old. But, a few years later, he had to figure out how he really felt about the sport.
“I was gonna quit when I was about 12,” Pina said. “We just changed teams and it was more competitive. I used to be really slow, so I was gonna quit.”
Yet he didn’t -- because his mother made forced him to continue -- so he “just had to fall in love with,” according to Pina.
Despite the tough love, Pina swam all four years at Seekonk High School and is a 2017 South Coast Conference record holder for the 200 IM (individual medley), 100 FR (freestyle), 100 fly (butterfly), and 100 back events. He also swam for Seacoast Swimming Association, a nationally recognized competitive swimming team within the country, and continues to swim at the club when he’s back home.
Going from the country to the city was much harder for Pina than he had expected. From pool closures to unchallenging training, his freshman year was something else for him.
“It was different -- bad different,” he said. “It wasn’t what I expected, but then I got used to it. The pool was closed a lot, training wasn’t as hard as I thought it’d be, but this year’s definitely changed for the better.”
And though things have improved, the one thing that seemed to remain the same for Pina was his relationship with his coach and teammates.
The 19-year-old recalled a home meet against St. Francis Brooklyn where -- despite the intensity and technique put into the race -- Pina and his teammate, Chad Williams, finished their lap at the same second, which was Pina’s favorite moment from last season.
Additionally, last season, the Peacocks swim team placed sixth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Finals. But this year, the swimmers are shooting to move up to third or fourth place, Pina said.
But the sophomore swimmer won’t be able to represent SPU at every game, as he’ll be training with his home club team as well as different places in Africa.
Nonetheless, Pina still aims to get Top 16 in the MAACs and to constantly do his best in his upcoming games. For now, he’s got his eyes set on China, which is where he’ll be about two months from now.
“In December, I’m going to China for World Championships,” Pina said. “All these meets, leading up to it, will help me be ready. So, when I get to the Olympics, it’ll still be a shock, but just a little less of it and it’ll help me be ready to race still.”