When I learned I was being inducted into the SMU Hall of Fame, the very first thing that crossed my mind had nothing to do with swimming.
In fact, I hardly thought about the actual swimming at SMU for the last 25 years.
I know it sounds strange, but truthfully, it was the people that left a lasting impression.
The friendships I made, the person I became, and all of the things I’ve brought with me from that point forward — those are the experiences that really stick with me after all of these years.
Yes, I did have four extraordinary years with all of the NCAA and U.S. Open titles, but those accomplishments were bits and pieces of the total experience.
The memories with teammates, classmates, teachers, and coaches are what I think about when reminiscing on my time at SMU.
Those are the moments that ended up meaning the most.
I probably would have quit swimming altogether if not for SMU.
That was sort of the typical pattern after high school in Denmark, you know?
I was coming off the 1992 Olympics, and even though I was still young, the idea was to focus on school in Copenhagen instead.
In Denmark, it was pretty much impossible to combine a career in sports and academics at the same. So, the idea was to attend school and slowly but surely phase out of swimming.
But then, SMU came knocking.
It instantly seemed like a great opportunity but was obviously also very big decision.
I was traveling maybe 5,000 miles from home at a time when there was no online chatting or zoom meetings.
It was a completely different world back then.
As a matter of fact, I ended up writing a lot of letters with family and friends back home in Denmark — I probably exchanged over 100 letters in my first semester alone.
But, anyways, my decision to say yes to SMU ultimately came down to the advice I got from my mom.
She told me, “You can always go for the first semester. It’s only four months, and you know, if you don’t like it, come back home. It’s no big deal. If you can’t settle in or you feel like you’re not getting anything out of it, school-wise or swim-wise, you can always do something else. It’s not the end of the world.”
I was living at home alone with her at the time, and so it was a big deal for her to say that to me, knowing I’d be the last child leaving the nest.
And yet, she insisted that I go ahead and do it because she knew it was a chance of a lifetime.
That conversation with my mom was very important in my decision to pack up two suitcases and hop on a plane ride to the United States.
She knew everything I’d been through previously with my Olympic journey, which is one of the reasons why SMU was interested in me in the first place.
I was coming into the program with a lot of experience, having just barely missed qualifying for the Olympics in 1988 and then making it in 1992.
I often attribute my success to previous failures, particularly with that 1988 failed attempt.
I still remember how disappointed I was back then.
But you know, in hindsight, it really was a good thing because I don’t think I would have extended my career in swimming for as long as I did if I made it that year.
I would have been entering SMU with two Olympic appearances, and that probably would have made me far less hungry and more exhausted with the sport.
Some say everything happens for a reason, and in my situation, that really did seem like it was the case.
I made the Olympics the same year I left for Texas to attend SMU.
The timing for everything just lined up so perfectly.
Without that timing, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be here getting inducted into the SMU Hall of Fame.
I’m just so thankful for that journey and everything that came along with it.
I don’t think there’s any coincidence that I completed some of my best times at SMU — many of which I never surpassed later in my career after leaving — not even at my second Olympics in 1996.
I truly believe that speaks volumes about what it was like to actually be there.
There was the motivation, competitiveness, team effort, and just always knowing your teammates had your back. Through all of the ups and downs, we stuck together and pushed each other to be better.
That’s what I think about when reminiscing about those times at SMU.
When I look at some of the other names of the previous student-athletes that have been inducted, it just gives me this huge sense of honor knowing I’m going to be on that list.
But none of it would have been possible without my teammates.
What we accomplished together has left such a big impression on me in my later years. I think we didn’t really realize how big of a success it was at that time in history.
We placed in the top four at NCAAs in all four years I was there in the team competition.
It was a time in history that was perfect for women’s swimming.
To have been a part of that and go into practices every day with such a talented group — I don’t know — it’s just something you have to see a few years later because you don’t really appreciate it enough when you’re actually in it.
Looking back, I appreciate all of those moments more now than ever before, including my actual graduation.
Speaking of graduation — it actually featured one of my favorite SMU moments.
One that had absolutely nothing to do with swimming.
Even though I speak English, it was really difficult for me to do the schoolwork, especially early on.
I really struggled because I’d never done multiple choice or true and false questions. It’s just not something we had back home in Denmark.
And when you’re not as strong in the language because it isn’t your native one, it’s really hard to understand the nuances of how things are written or spoken.
I performed poorly on those types of tests at the beginning, and the university had a strict policy for maintaining good grades to be able to compete in sports.
So, of course, I was panicking a bit.
But I never gave up.
I studied as much as I could for as long as I could, and I went and talked to teachers to see what I could do and how I could improve.
I kept that effort up for my entire stay at SMU.
So for graduation, I was in the Meadows School of the Arts. They position you in front of the building and seat your parents out on the lawn in the middle of the campus.
That was the one time my mom traveled to see me there.
She had never visited until that graduation day.
When they called my name, and I walked up to get my diploma, the teachers stood up as I walked by because of the great relationship I had built with them over the years.
That’s something I’ll never forget.
It made a great impression because I think it was their way of recognizing and applauding my effort.
It had nothing to do with swimming and everything to do with studying hard, staying the course, and finishing.
While I’m clearly excited about the Hall of Fame induction, I can’t wait to go back and feel those memories once again.
I can’t wait to see the people that made SMU my home away from home.
The inductees will be recognized at the annual Hall of Fame Banquet and Induction Ceremony on Friday, November 4 in Armstrong Fieldhouse at the Indoor Performance Center. For additional information or for tickets to the SMU Athletics Hall of Fame Banquet, click here.