Study Abroad in Soccer

Andrew Bremer at US Soccer Paralympic Training

Andrew Bremer at US Soccer Paralympic Training. Photo by Hana Asano.

Like many Kalamazoo College student athletes over the years, junior Andrew Bremer will enjoy a spring term international experience. His travel will take him to Spain, the Netherlands and (possibly) to Brazil, not as a currently enrolled K student but instead as a member of the United States Paralympics soccer team.

“Before all this happened,” says Andrew, “I’d only been on a plane once, and never out of the country.”

“All this” started with a June 2015 invitation to attend training camp for the U.S. team. That first camp for Andrew (requiring his second plane trip) took place at the National Training Center for Soccer in Los Angeles last October. Andrew had to miss a week of fall term classes as well as two soccer matches (he plays defense for the Hornet team). The second training camp occurred in November (after Thanksgiving and therefore the end of fall term, “thankfully,” smiles Andrew) at the Olympic Training Center in San Diego.  For training camp number three Andrew flew to Florida in early January.

“Missing week one of winter term was tough,” says Andrew, who is as hard working and disciplined in his studies as he is on the pitch.  The economics and business major (and mathematics minor) enjoyed the full support of his K professors and soccer coach, as well as that of Associate Dean of Students Dana Jansma, who notified the College’s communication office about Andrew’s story and his plans for junior spring term.

He will take a leave of absence that term because he learned in late January that he is invited to join the U.S. Paralympics soccer team. The team will train for most of the month of April in Atlanta. At the end of that month the team will depart for Barcelona, Spain, for a pre-Paralympics tournament to include seven of the eight teams that will compete at the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In addition to the U.S. squad, the eight teams include Russia, Ireland, Brazil, Ukraine, Argentina, Great Britain and the Netherlands.

“The pool play format guarantees us at least three games in Spain,” says Andrew. After the tournament the team will return to Atlanta in mid-May for more training. Then it’s off to a four-team June tournament in the Netherlands, organized by the International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Football. After that tournament Andrew will wait to see if he’s made the roster for Paralympic Games in Rio.

He feels his chances are pretty good, and the prospect of playing there (September 7-18) he considers the most exciting aspect of his soccer study abroad adventure.

“The team will stay in the Olympic Village,” says Andrew, “and the atmosphere will be electric.” He says that the Paralympics soccer matches that followed the London Olympics drew crowds of some 13,000 spectators on average. And the stadium in Rio can hold 15,000 people.

His participation in the Paralympic Games will mean Andrew misses the first few days of fall term, but he’s proven he can handle that challenge. He plans to do preliminary research for his Senior Individualized Project while in Atlanta, where training occurs nearby the liberal arts school Oglethorpe University and its library. During previous trips to Los Angeles, San Diego and Bradenton (Fla.) Andrew grew accustomed to finding a quiet place between practices to knock off some study. And, as good fortune would have it, he completed most of his requirements for his major in his first two years at K. All that remains for economics and business will be the SIP and senior seminar.

True to his liberal arts nature, Andrew intends to snag that math minor as well. And speaking of liberal arts, it’s evident in his soccer too: though he plays defense for K, for Team U.S.A. he prowls the pitch as a forward. He’ll resume the former when he steps foot again on MacKenzie Field fall term. And academically, “I’ll complete all my degree requirements in time for June commencement.

A challenge? Yes. But in some ways enrolling at K at all may been his toughest initial test, what with the familial tug of Calvin College (both his parents are graduates, and the family lives about two blocks away from the campus) and Hope College (his older brother is a graduate and his younger sister a current student). How did Andrew navigate these cross currents?

“I love the Quad,” he says, “and K’s academic rigor. In fact, I love it here so much that it’s painful to take the leave from spring term.” Now that’s a student athlete! With quite a family sports pedigree. His older sister swam the Rice University (Houston, Texas) team. His older brother played hockey for the Flying Dutch, and his younger sister is a member of Hope’s soccer team.

Will they or his parents attend any of his matches overseas? “Probably not in Spain or the Netherlands,” says Andrew. “But if I’m on the roster for Rio, well, they’ve already inquired about plane tickets.”

Toward that end, K shouts out a huge “Good luck, Andrew!”