Cheyenne Rova participated in the Commonwealth Games and the Pacific Games, two very prestigious international events.
But the former Minnesota state swimmer hadn’t competed in the Olympics, so she decided to give it a shot.
“It’s always been in my head,” said Rova, who has just completed two weeks of training in Sydney, Australia. “I’m the type of person who likes to compete one competition at a time, but since I had never been to the Olympics, I thought I would give it a try.”
Later this month, Rova will swim in the 50-meter freestyle, representing her home country of Fiji at the Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Rova came to the United States in 2013 through an Australian Olympic Committee program, which helps athletes find college programs in the United States. She spent two years at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville, Iowa, before seeking another university to pursue her college and athletic career.
She considered a few colleges in California, but she made only one visit, coming to the state of Minnesota to be close to her younger sister Adele, who was only a year old in Iowa Lakes.
Rova joined the Minnesota State Women’s Swim and Diving Team in 2015 and won the conference championships in the 50 freestyle relay, 200 freestyle relay and 200 medley relay.
As a senior, Rova won six events in the conference competition: 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 400 freestyle, 200 medley relays, 200 freestyle relays and 400 medley relays. She won American All-Star honors in NCAA competition finishing third in the 50 freestyle, third in the 200 free relay, fifth in the 100 freestyle and sixth in the 400 free relay.
After finishing swimming, she remained in the state of Minnesota for two years as a graduate assistant coach. She then returned to Fiji and accepted a position as a physical education and health teacher and continued to swim with her local club.
“Everything was closed due to COVID, so I was using my 15-meter pool at home,” she said.
Rova still keeps in touch with some of her former Minnesota state teammates, and she often chats with Minnesota state coach Nathan Owens, who helps her prepare for training by reminding her of his strengths and what she has done to be successful in the past.
“She’s a world-class swimmer, there’s no question about it,” said Owens. “I’m super happy for her.”
Rova will be the first student-athlete from the state of Minnesota to compete in the Summer Olympics.
The state of Minnesota has seen female athletes compete in the Winter Olympics. Nina Tikkinen was a member of the Finnish women’s hockey team at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, and Emila Andersson played on the Swedish women’s hockey team at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
David Backes competed for the United States team in men’s hockey in 2010 and 2014, while sprinter Emmanuel Matadi competed for Liberia at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. Matadi also wants to be in Tokyo, run the 100 meters.
Fiji is only sending one swimmer and one swimmer to the Olympics, and Rova will only compete in one event. The Olympic Games begin on Friday July 23 and the preliminary rounds in the women’s 50 freestyle begin on Friday July 30. The semi-finals will take place on Saturday July 31 and the finals will take place on Sunday August 1.
Having not competed against other swimmers in so long, she doesn’t let her expectations get too high.
“I really hope I get my best time,” she said. “My split times in training were pretty good. Can’t wait to see how I’m doing. “
She is back in Fiji, a small island in the South Pacific, nearly 3,000 miles east of Australia, and will fly to Japan on July 19, remaining in a team bubble before settling in head towards Tokyo.
“I haven’t really thought about it yet,” she said. “But once I start traveling I think it will feel more real to me.”
It appears that no fans will be allowed at any of the Olympic venues due to the increase in COVID cases. She hopes to attend the opening ceremonies, but has heard that only one member of each Olympic team will be allowed to attend the event, wearing that country’s flag.
When she arrives at the pool, she expects the nerves to kick in.
“It’s exciting to compete with the best in the world,” she said. “It should be fun. I’m very excited to see it all.”
Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.