Newton senior Matheus Pinto was simply looking for a student exchange program to help him see the world.
Little did he know, but during his time in Newton, he would also see his name go into the Newton swimming record books. And with the swimming postseason just around the corner, there's a good chance he could be bring a few extra souvenirs home.
Pinto, a native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, has made a significant impact on the Cardinal swimming program since his arrival in August. Not only is he expected to make some waves at the state meet in February, but he is also now considering a long-term stay in the U.S. to continue what he has started in the pool.
"Going abroad was something I always wanted to do to see new things and have new experiences," Pinto said. "That's why I'm doing this."
Since arriving to town, Pinto has experienced both the dry heat of an Iowa summer and some of the worst weather an Iowa winter can provide. Unlike the rest of us, however, his relationship with snow is a little bit more friendly.
"It's funny, because that's the first time I've ever seen snow," Pinto said. "I really enjoyed that."
Changes in weather obviously have had no effect on Pinto in the pool, as he was part of a record-breaking 200-yard freestyle relay along with teammates Luke Norcross, Ryan Jolivette and Austin Bunker in the team's first meet of the season. Since then, he has also grabbed records in the 50 freestyle and the 100 breaststroke and remains undefeated in dual meet races.
While Pinto's arrival on the team just kind of happened one day, there was plenty of buildup after members of the team received word on exactly what he could do in the pool
"I had heard rumors before the season started that we were going to have this foreign exchange student," Newton coach Dave Hook said. "We've had them before and they've always been nice and some have been pretty good swimmers, but I was hearing that this one was really good. He's just been phenomenal in his work ethic and what he's brought to the team."
Despite his skill level and what he's been able to do in the water, Pinto describes being a leader as a difficult task due to his short time with the team. He does, however, try his best to speak up in pre-meet meeetings and help his teammates with technical aspects during meets. He also admitted to not knowing English very well when he got here, but swimming has certainly helped him in that respect.
“He’s kind of led by his swimming, really,” Hook said. “He’s not too vocal of a guy and he’s pretty quiet. You could almost call it humble, but he’s kind of let the other guys keep that role.”
Pinto’s stay in Newton has made one particular impact on him — the desire to stay in the U.S. to swim at the collegiate level. It was more of a recent decision and he’s just now starting the process of looking for schools, but Hook has no doubts that he’ll be able to land at a school to continue his swimming career.
“Getting a scholarship would be great,” Pinto said. “No schools have called me or anything like that, but I’m looking at a few colleges and studying where it would be nice to swim.”
A boon to his college swimming hopes could be an appearance at the state meet. Right now, Pinto is ranked eighth in the state in the 50 free, 10th in the 100 free, 14th in the 100 breaststroke and 15th with Bunker, Jolivette and Norcross in the 200 free relay. With personal goals of reaching the top-five in those events, Pinto could easily swim his way into a scholarship in the process.
“Matheus will likely be at the state meet, and we’re trying to get some relays there as well,” Hook said. “He’s definitely above and beyond any student I’ve ever coached. It’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime deal, and we’re trying to take advantage of it.”
Regardless of what happens between now and the end of the season, it’s fair to say that Pinto and the Cardinals have had positive impacts on one another. While Pinto has given his teammates a boost in the pool, they have helped a foreign exchange student adapt to a new country with a drastically new climate.
“It’s been really nice,” Pinto said. “The coach’s work has been really great and the team has been really nice and treated me really well, so I didn’t have any problems.”
The same can be said about Pinto and his host family, Alicia and Shawn Weithers.
“They’ve been great,” he said of his host family. “They’ve hosted me really well and I don’t have a single bad thing to say about them. They’ve been so nice.”
Only time will tell if Pinto will reach his goals of the state meet and a college scholarship. But if this season is any indication of how Pinto handles his goals, neither should be a problem.