TCNJ Student Swims in Summer Olympics

gilbert kaburu
Gilbert Kaburu

Visit TCNJ’s Aquatic Center and you’ll witness All-American swimmers gliding through their eight-lane, 25-meter pool. To find TCNJ’s only Olympic swimmer, however, you’ll have to travel across an ocean.

Gilbert Kaburu is currently a student in TCNJ’s Graduate Global Programs at the Johannesburg, South Africa, site. This past summer, he represented his home country of Uganda in the 2008 Summer Olympics, competing in the 50 meter-freestyle event.

“I was proud to represent and to don my country’s colors,” said Kaburu. “Before the Olympics, I was quite relaxed about [going]. Being there in Beijing was another issue altogether. The massive village, facilities, and meeting and shaking hands with some of the stars I had only seen on television was a marvelous feeling.”

The 26 year-old swimmer has been representing Uganda in various continental and international events since the age of 16. After performing well in several competitions, including the All-Africa games, Kaburu was invited to compete in the Olympics under the tripartite agreement, which is intended to inspire swimmers from developing countries to train harder and compete with the best in the world. He trained daily in a pool half the size of the Olympic standard and finished his heat in a respectable 27.2 seconds, better than 16 other competitors at the games.

A full-time swim teacher and coach, Kaburu now has an Olympic pedigree along with some minor celebrity to help motivate young swimmers in Uganda. The events with Ugandan participants were broadcast and replayed over and over, so Kaburu now has a recognizable face.

gilbert with james and kidd
Kaburu (right) with LeBron James (left) and Jason Kidd (center) during the Olympics Opening Ceremonies.

“I knew my sick mom was watching, but so was the country of 27 million,” he said. “I was surprised to hear everyone was watching on television and it was replayed again and again, even after my return. Since I got back home, many people see me in the street and say, “Well done!”

While swimming has brought Kaburu tremendous experiences, teaching is his passion. His enrollment in TCNJ’s program in Johannesburg will enable him to pursue his vision of becoming a professor in international relations. The College’s Graduate Global Programs offer a number of professional development options to educators throughout the world. Students can enroll in one of three master’s degree and/or certificate programs in elementary or secondary education or teaching English as a second language. A master’s degree in educational leadership is also available, as is a post-master’s certificate in educational leadership.

At the Johannesburg site, course work leading to elementary or secondary education and/or master’s degrees is available as are courses in educational administration. The center, according to Kaburu, is a small, cohesive unit with a diversity of students from various continents. He’s enjoyed his experience there immensely, and relates it to what he learned in Beijing.

“It has told me that I can compete with the very best in the world of academia,” Kaburu noted. “It is a wonderful opportunity. It is my second family. It has opened my eyes and made me discover myself. I would love to visit TCNJ’s campus in the United States one day. I’m always laughing when I receive college e-mails about a bear on campus or walkway that is being renovated. It would be cool to visit or be a professor there one day.”

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