ASU's Akesson At Home In The Water

by Haley Hirai

When a young Jesper Akesson was first learning how to swim, it was tough for him to jump in the cold water. "My father wasn't sure I would be a good swimmer or not," he said. No one has to worry anymore, as Akesson has burst onto the Pac-10 swimming scene since he transferred to ASU from Michigan's Wayne State University.

Akesson, who swam his fastest times of the season at last year's Pac-10 Championships, has made an immediate impact on the team. "Our team has embraced him," said ASU head coach Dorsey Tierney-Walker. "When you walk into a brand-new situation like this, and you automatically are an integral part of the team, I think it makes a huge difference."

A native of Oxie, Sweden, Akesson came to the U.S. to simultaneously swim competitively and earn his college degree, which is nearly impossible with Sweden's university system.

"It's different to leave home behind. You come to a whole different country, all by yourself. It's hard the first couple weeks before you start school and start swimming, but then you get to know friends and fall into a nice routine," said Akesson.

Akesson has always looked up to his older brother Henrik, who swam at Huntington Beach College in Huntington Beach, Calif., for a year. Henrik was the inspiration for Akesson to pursue a collegiate swimming career in the U.S. "I got two things out of one. I got to fulfill my dream to study and swim," said Akesson.

At ASU, Akesson rooms with two of his teammates, Derek Knittle and Julius Schmidt, a sophomore from Denmark. The roommates share a common love for their new Xbox, which they purchased a few weeks ago to engage in competitive games of virtual soccer.

"All three of those young men are outstanding students. They are responsible and balance everything very well. They have a real cooperative situation and they are great friends," said Tierney-Walker.

Akesson and Schmidt often travel home for holiday breaks together, which is not an easy journey. With no direct flight to Sweden, the two swimmers fly from Arizona to Chicago to Copenhagen, and then Akesson takes a 20-minute train ride to his hometown of Oxie.

Akesson doesn't appear to mind the travel time, as one of his passions is traveling during the off-season. He has been to every continent in the world, except Australia. "My favorite trip was when I visited my brother when he was working in Japan. It was a very exciting experience with that culture," he said.

Akesson has prepared for the upcoming Pac-10 Championships with a tough year of practicing and hard work. While racing through the water during drills, he remains calm by singing in his head or thinking about his homework. "We are keeping a positive mindset. Practice makes perfect. Stay relaxed," he said.

"Jesper has a great sense of humor. He's very laid-back. He sets such a good example for the younger swimmers. Very few times do I remember him coming in overly stressed out about anything, but he's willing to do whatever it takes to win," said Tierney-Walker.

Although swimming is an individual sport, Akesson saw how much the teams actually depend on each other when he came to the U.S. "The team is always there for you. If you need help, there's always someone there. They cheer you on. We are a big family all and all," he said.

The ASU family is ready to perform their best at the Pac-10 Championships. And this time, Akesson will have no problem diving into the cold water.

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