Feature Stories

‘A great honor’: Latter-day Saint swimmer representing Puerto Rico in Olympics shares his faith

Danielle Christensen

Butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle—it’s a swimming medley that would be intimidating to some, but for Jarod Arroyo, it’s his bread and butter. And this week, he has the chance to prove it at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

It’s not the first time the Latter-day Saint athlete, who will be representing Puerto Rico in Tokyo, has competed internationally. Previously, the 20-year-old swam in the 2019 World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, and he has competed in the 2018 Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games. He also received multiple medals, including gold, at the 2018 Central American and Caribbean Games.

But while it’s safe to say Jarod in many ways lives for his sport, his faith, family, and love for Puerto Rico truly mean everything to him—and they have shaped the athlete into who he is today.

Achieving the Dream

Watching Jarod confidently glide from one end of the pool to another in a competition, it’s hard to imagine that he was once scared of the water when he started swimming at age 4. Initially, he didn't want to touch or even look at the water, but he continued to take lessons. He also played all kinds of sports as a boy from baseball to soccer to tennis, so it wasn’t until he was about 12 years old that swimming ended up being his sport of choice. Fast forward to today, and the soon-to-be sophomore swimmer at Arizona State spends almost as much time in the water as he does out of it.

“Swimming is a very time-consuming sport. So how I think of it is, if you don’t love it, I wouldn’t do it if I were you,” he says. “But I love doing it, so I don’t mind it.”

Jarod and his family have sacrificed a lot to achieve this dream, and the road hasn’t been easy.

“You know, years ago when Jarod told us ‘I’m going to the Olympics’ . . . [we said] ‘If you put in the work, we’ll do whatever it takes to get you there,” says his mother, Jennifer Arroyo. “And he’s put in the work. He works hard. And personally, he sacrificed a lot.”

Juan Arroyo, Jarod’s father, explains that his son was previously offered a spot in the US Junior National Team, but Jarod wanted to represent Puerto Rico instead—something that made Juan very proud as a native of the island. So at age 15, Jarod began training with a coach in Arizona but doing so affected the entire family. Since Juan was working at Brigham Young University at the time, the family lived in separate states for the next four years and traveled back and forth to see each other as often as they could.

Today, Jarod’s daily schedule is difficult to fathom. He swims for four hours or more every day, two hours both in the morning and at night, plus weight training every other day for about an hour and a half. In total, he estimates five to six hours of training each day, with his only day off being Sunday.

“That dedication alone is something a lot of people don’t realize behind the scenes,” Jarod says. “Also,[when] competing at such a high level there also comes a big mental toll . . . it can cause lots of depression and stuff like that. But having the gospel . . . helps balance out a lot, at least for me.”

Jarod practices visualization and meditation to channel his physical and emotional energy before a competition. During these upcoming Olympic Games, he’ll be competing in not one but two events in Japan—the 400m and the 200m individual medley, consisting of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle.

“Honestly, I’m so excited and grateful for both of [these events], because being able to swim twice in such a high caliber pool at such a high performing competition is like what I’ve always dreamed of, so having two opportunities to swim in that pool is just so amazing and I’m so excited for that,” he says.

Setting an Example

Jarod is especially looking forward to representing Puerto Rico as he competes at the Olympic Games. Not only does he have a great love for the island, but he is also one of only two athletes who will be swimming for Puerto Rico at these Olympics.

“Representing Puerto, for me, is a really big honor that I’m very fortunate and grateful to have,” says Jarod. “Representing the US would be cool and all—to be part of Team USA—but let’s say that I qualified to swim for Team USA in Tokyo, but today I broke my arm. Essentially, there’d just be someone right behind me to fill my place. . . . However, with Puerto Rico I feel like I can do a lot more for the island itself in terms of helping promote water safety and just bringing swimming and the culture together more.”

Both Jarod and his mother explain that although Puerto Rico is surrounded by water, few people there know how to swim. Jarod hopes that he’ll therefore be able to promote swimming and water safety through competing.

“In Puerto Rico right now, swimming is not that big of a sport, and it’s not really recognized as a high performing sport, I guess you could say, like baseball or tennis,” he says. “My goal with my swimming career is to help elevate that. . . . So that more kids can get into it because it is an island, so there’s plenty of water [and] water safety is a big deal. So eventually, I’d like to do something with water safety and help promote that as well as help kids out. But besides swimming, I also like to set an example.”

That example is evident through Jarod’s work ethic as well as his faith.

“One of my [elementary school] teachers taught us how to lead by example, and how leading by example through your actions can often be a lot more powerful than just bossing people around or with words. And so, I try to live by that and I try to lead by my hard-working, faithful example and try and inspire others to do the same as well,” he says.

Jarod also talks about his faith on social media. In between posts about his swimming, he’ll simply wish people a happy Sunday or share a unique experience he had as a Latter-day Saint. Recently, his younger sister asked him to baptize her, and he posted photos about that day on his Instagram account.

“It was such a cool experience. I’ve never felt a feeling like that before in my life,” he says. “But my goal is to be able to help other young men in the Church have similar experiences by being worthy and faithful as well, and by leading by my example. . . Obviously, no one’s perfect here; the only perfect example is our Savior, and so His example is what inspires me to work hard and help others in any way that I can.”

As a swimmer, Jarod has been able to be a missionary in many ways. His parents explain that he has shared the gospel with roommates, teammates, and is always trying to help others. His family has also had opportunities to talk about the gospel because others notice Jarod’s example and want to know more about it.

On social media, Jarod’s followers gravitate to how he thanks God for his accomplishments and talents. He also stays true to his standards even though it can be hard at times, and he avoids scenes where his peers will be drinking.

“His teammates respect him for it, too, because they’ll ask him to be the designated driver and he’s like, ‘No, I’m not going because I don’t want to be around that.’ [And they’re like], ‘Well okay. We respect that, that’s good,’” says his mother, Jennifer.

Jarod adds that his peers have supported him in living his beliefs.

“My teammates . . . respect my decisions in terms of what we believe in and stuff like that. So with them respecting that and not giving me a hard time about it, it makes it a lot better and easier to just live by the gospel . . . .My teammates are wonderful. I wouldn’t be able to be where I’m at without them so I’m thankful for that,” he says.

► You may also like: How these eight Latter-day Saint Olympians competing in Tokyo have shared their faith online

Jarod will be swimming to qualify for the 400m IM (final on July 24 at 7:30 PM MDT) and the 200m IM (final on July 29 at 8:15 PM MDT). As spectators are not allowed at the Olympic Games this year, his parents will be cheering on their son from their home in Lehi, Utah, with friends and family. But no matter how he performs, they are proud of what he has accomplished.

“I feel proud that he’s representing Puerto Rico, but I feel proud [of] him because he worked so hard for this and he deserves it,” Juan says. “He’s sacrificed and he’s a good kid and he’s always done the right things.”

Being on the world stage swimming for the people he loves, Jarod says, has been worth it.

“I feel like it means a lot more to a [place] like Puerto Rico because the culture there’s very family-oriented and very close and happy and positive. And so being able to represent [Puerto Rico] at such a big competition is such a great honor and [a] blessing,” he says. “I’m so thankful for all the blessings that I’ve been blessed with and my family. I’m so thankful for everything that they’ve done for me, and my countries, and everyone.”

Featured image from Jarod Arroyo’s Instagram

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