Looking to draw on the experiences and aptitudes of aquatics athletes, the 2022 class of FINA Athlete Interns recently reported to duty at the FINA headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.
With an inaugural class of two interns, Franci Aleksi and Sabine Hazboun impressed the hiring team with their passion and purpose for aquatics. Now comes the real challenge, drawing on their skills and experiences as an athlete to give back to the aquatics community, stay connected to their sporting roots and, oh yeah, help FINA and the Budapest 2022 organising committee deliver the 19th FINA World Championships in their first month on the job.
Two find out a bit more about the two athletes that are cultivating their career path (at least for now) from beyond the field of play, we sat down with Franci and Sabine on their first week on the job to see how things are going.
Hailing from Albania and holder of multiple national records in short and long course swimming, Franci Aleksi joins the FINA team as an intern on a six-month assignment. A former team member of the FINA Development Center in Kazan (RUS), Aleksi’s also a student-athlete studying business management and entrepreneurship at Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio (USA).
Where Franci likes to go the distance, Sabine is all about the speed: she’s the Palestinian record-holder in the 50m and 100m, both for freestyle and butterfly. A former Club Natacio Atletic Barceloneta team member, Sabine comes to FINA after working for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as an Athlete Engagement Intern where she worked in the Olympic Village for the Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 Olympic Games.
Sabine’s not just a swimmer: growing up, she was a top-flight fencer for Palestine. From 2006 to 2009, Sabine was on her fencing national team. In 2010, she represented Palestine in swimming at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore and then followed that up by competing for her nation at the London 2012 Games.
Welcome to the team. What are for first impressions of working for FINA and living in Lausanne?
Franci: I am very excited to have this opportunity to work in such an amazing environment with people who are committed to the most beautiful sports in the world. Lausanne is an astonishing city looking at first how it's placed in a hilly area followed by one of the most picturesque lakes in Europe! Almost on top of this hill is located our amazing villa which gives a beautiful semi portrait impression from the outside, while the inside lies the heart of its beauty.
Sabine: Thank you for this warm welcoming. My first impression about FINA is that everyone speaks the same swimming “jargon”, which instantly made me feel at home. When it comes to living in Lausanne, regardless of the size of the city, it has everything you need!
What are you most interested in or intrigued to work on during your internship at FINA?
Franci: My drive to work in this office is more or the same drive that I experience behind the blocks of a swimming race knowing that I trained very well for it. Because of my participation in the development program last year as a swimmer, I think that my input on this section will be of value to the team. I know very well what a swimmer's needs and wants are when it comes to achieving full potential as a swimmer.
Sabine: I am keen to organise FINA events as a staff member this time, but I am also looking forward to working with the integrity and development units, it is very exciting to see that growing at FINA.
Did you get asked in your interview what the last book was that your read? Well, what was it?
Franci: The last book that I read was called Atomic Habits. This book is a great asset to everyone, because habits are what defines us on an everyday basis. It is a full detailed book with many examples and easy to incorporate in our lives.
Sabine: The last book I have read was Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I recommend everyone to read it.
Have you found a pool or swimming team to call your own? Or how about Lake Geneva?
Franci: This year I achieved three personal records and three pool records earning MVP in my collegiate team and will be participating in the European championships in August. Meanwhile, we have a 25m pool very close to the office. I am still looking to train in one of the 50m pools in Lausanne which will allow me to train better for this summer.
Sabine: Woah of course! Cold lake dips are my favourite. Pool wise, I would say Bellerive pool for sure. I am definitely looking forward to the opening of the first Olympic sized pool in Lausanne later in September.
What do you look to bring from the competitive arena into the professional environment?
Franci: The competitive arena has taught me that success is achieved through passion, discipline and teamwork. These three building blocks of success are very important when it comes to achieving personal and team goals in the pool and working environment in my experience. One of my favourite quotes is: "It is not important how many times we fall, but how many times we are able to get up."
Sabine: I am happy to bring the athletes’ perspective. After competing for 12 years internationally, I still think like an athlete, and I believe this is crucial when it comes to decision making since athletes are the heart of what we do. Without them, we would not be doing what we do, so it is all about improving their experience and that includes their preparation ahead of the competition, their experience during the competition, their preparation to retire from sport and finally their transition into the business world or whatever dreams they aspire to accomplish, beyond their sporting career.
Will this give you a competitive advantage over those that don’t have your sports background?
Franci: I believe that having a swimming background helps because the work that we are doing is helping swimmers like us around the world achieve their dreams and that is very meaningful to me.
Sabine: To be very honest, yes, it is an advantage. However, those who don’t have my sports background have a longer work experience, which makes the best balance. We learn a lot from each other, thus, both sides are vital to achieving the best outcomes.
Are you fully transitioning into the next chapter of your life, or could we see you still competing on the global stage in the future?
Franci: I have participated in seven FINA World Championships and 5 LEN European Championships but I haven't completed my Olympic dream. I think that working both in the office and in the pool is a great combination. I hope to realize my Olympic dream at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
Sabine: Thinking about this causes me mental chaos but I think I have finally settled on a decision. Quick answer: Absolutely done and satisfied and keen to continue practising a little bit of everything at least 90 minutes a day, and not 8 hours and I call that a nice balance. I love how I get to listen to my body now, some days my practice could be a nice Yoga session and on other days running, cycling, generic movement, an 8-hour hike or a long swim session because it is still my habitat! However, I do miss the adrenaline I would feel on the blocks, though I believe this is replaceable because I can still compete in different “fun” events.
Last chance – any final words?
Franci: I would really like to thank everyone that has helped me achieve my accomplishments in school, pool, and work environment. I want to give a special thanks to my American family Conny and Austin McCormack who have done an incredible job through all the years that I have been in the United States.
Sabine: Bring it on!!! I am thrilled that I’ll be at the FINA World Championships and connect with the swimming world again. I get goosebumps when I just think of it.
Huge thanks to everyone that accompanied me from the start of my sporting career until now. From the Olympic Training Centre in Barcelona to the Johan Cruyff Institute to the IOC for the incredible two Olympic Games experience as a staff member and finally FINA.