From Sport Lived to Silicon Valley

Words Hugo van de Graaf

Rowing has been a major part of my life since I was 11 years old, when I started rowing at the rowing club Vésenaz in Geneva, Switzerland. I can, to this day, define rowing as a true passion.

After having the honour of getting selected to represent Switzerland at the 2016 European and World Championships, I took the decision to go to college at UC Berkeley, California, to be able to keep rowing at a high level and study in a great University. As I was preparing to go to the US, I took a GAP year after graduating High School. The idea behind this year off was to practice my English in a foreign country while getting better at rowing. This is why I chose the Sport Lived program.


A week after my 18th birthday, I found myself on a plane heading to the other side of the world. After a very long trip, I finally arrived in this exciting city. As much as I couldn’t wait to discover Melbourne, it was hard not to be scared of this new adventure. After all, I did not speak the language all that well and I didn’t know any of the people I was going to live with.

Meeting my flat mates definitely made me feel more comfortable and we quickly all became great friends. The fact that we were all here for the same reason, playing our sport, definitely made it even better. Because they were all cricket players, I got to learn all about the sport, which I knew nothing about. After settling in to my apartment, I was ready to learn all about the Aussie culture and the rowing life in Melbourne.

A Rower’s life:

A few days after my arrival, I joined one of Melbourne’s best rowing clubs, Mercantile. I was, right away, amazed by the way I was welcomed in the club. Everyone was so friendly, and they all made me feel part of the team right from the first day. My objective was to be fully engaged in the club and gain as much experience as I could. I therefore shaped my schedule all around my training plan. I had training at 6am every morning, an afternoon session that I could fit in whenever I wanted and Sundays off. I found that I had a lot of time during the day to go and explore all parts of this amazing city. I also built some great friendships with my teammates as I was spending most of my time with them.

Throughout my stay, my rowing level got better, and I gained valuable experience. I was rowing with a higher-level group of guys and Melbourne’s summer weather always kept my motivation high. The training plan that I was following was tough but helped me grow physically and mentally as an athlete. The best part of the season is that I got to compete for Mercs and I even got the chance to go to National Championships in Sydney where I won a gold and bronze medal in the club double and the under 23 eight.


I had previously heard that Melbourne is one of the greatest cities to live in and I can honestly say that it is true. The city is full of different places to discover and, working as a food delivery man on my bike, I got to see so much of it. Every day was a new adventure. One of the best parts of the Sport Lived program is the social events organised throughout the summer. I got to go to experience the Melbourne Cup horse racing carnival, watch tennis at the Australian Open, enjoy test match cricket the MCG and have a go at surfing on the Mornington Peninsula.

To finish off my stay in Australia, three of my fellow program mates and I went to Cairns for a week to do some scuba diving at the Great Barrier of Reef. This was one of the most amazing experience of my life and a great way to end my Sport Lived program.

I believe that the Sport Lived program has helped me grow as an individual as I got to experience what it is to live away from my family and be independent on a daily basis. It presented various challenges that I value so much now that I am in University.

This experience really prepared me for College in California. On the one hand, I like to think that my English got pretty good which is what I was looking for in going to Australia and on the other, rowing at Mercantile was a true stepping stone in joining the rowing team here at Cal.

My first year at University was a blast, I rowed in the freshman (first year) eight and earned a gold medal in our conference before rowing at nationals where my boat and I claimed bronze in the third varsity category. I am now in my second year preparing the beginning of my second rowing season.

Doing this program was the best decision I could ever make for my gap year and I thank Sport Lived for making my experience so great and valuable. I already can’t wait to go back to Australia to visit all my old teammates.

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