My Experiences

Katie Swords

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This series is brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

As I reflect on my time as a student-athlete at SMU, it’s interesting how it’s not really the competitions and results that stand out to me — instead, it’s the people and these unique experiences that truly defined my career.

In fact, it’s fascinating to reminisce about some seemingly trivial events that caused chain reactions that would impact my path entirely.

Like, imagine catching a bug being one of your most pivotal turning points.

Or how helping out a teammate may be the reason you end up writing history.

Or how a roommate assignment turns you into a better athlete and person.

It’s kind of crazy to think about.

But this is how life works, I guess.

So let me tell you how it all played out for me.


Not a scam

When I was recruited in the early 1990s, college sports in the United States was a completely new concept to me.

Prior to the age of social media and the internet, it was hard to come across it in Australia.  In fact, I’d never even heard of it before.

So when my mom got a call from Rene, SMU’s distance coach at the time, we for sure thought this was some sort of scam.

I’m not even sure scams were a thing back then, but we still felt that way.

However when we discovered this was a legit offer, it was almost a no-brainer.

Like, why wouldn’t I want to give this adventure a try?!

In retrospect, I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of the moment back then. Not that I took it for granted by any means, but I definitely didn’t understand how fortunate I was when Rene offered me to come to SMU.

Now, in hindsight, I’m fully aware how instrumental that moment was.

Traveling the world and US

Before starting my chapter at SMU, I was on a two-month long exchange to Japan.

During this time, I had barely done any running. Also, I had completely fallen in love with some sort of Japanese cream-puff pastry, which I was offered constantly and ate way too much of.

As a result, I wasn’t in very good running shape when I arrived at SMU, and my performances that first semester were adequate at best.

For Christmas break, I decided to hop on a Greyhound bus and spend a few weeks exploring nearby states and features, including Las Vegas, Phoenix, Death Valley, and the Grand Canyon. 

I have always been a very independent person and enjoyed the occasional adventure.

It’s funny thinking about it now, because if my daughter were to propose a trip like this on her own, I’d have a lot of things to say about it.


While I was in Winter Park, Colorado, I actually became quite ill.

It was a nasty bug, and when you’re out there all by yourself, it really was a challenging time. I found out later that my parents had been really worried too.

Fortunately, there was a wonderful nurse staying in the Youth Hostel at the time.

She took pity on me and took me home with her to Denver, where she spent a week nursing me back to health. Her name was Ann Blake and she was originally from New Zealand — I mention this on the off-chance that someone she knows will read this and let her know that her kindness has never been forgotten.

Getting sick like that was awful, particularly as a 17-year-old alone in a foreign country. However, it did seem to serve as a body reset, and I came back to a much better semester of running.

I also started paying a lot more attention to my nutrition.

I had never thought too hard about the connection between food and running, but the accumulation of those events was eye-opening and a big-time game-changer.

My time at SMU

If you think about the story I just told you, it’s crazy how all of those coincidences led to such a major career moment.

And I’d say I experienced something equally as powerful when Head Coach Dave Wollman made me roommates with Teri Steer, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019.

Teri was an amazing sportsperson — a multi-sport athlete who had chosen to throw for SMU.

More importantly, she was also an incredible person. She was just so positive and an absolute team player.

The fact that we were rooming together seemed to create a bridge between the throwers and the runners.

There was still a friendly rivalry, of course, but because of Teri, there was a whole lot more intermingling than there otherwise would have been, which was fantastic for team spirit and cohesion.

Just experiencing college life next to Teri was very rewarding and definitely played a huge part in my personal growth.

For that, I’ll be forever grateful.

And competition-wise, I honestly don’t even know where to start.

There were so many incredible moments, like winning the first NCAA individual title in women’s track for SMU.

But one event I’ll never forget was the 1996 Southwest Conference meet — the final event before the dissolution of the SWC.

The atmosphere and team excitement can’t be put in words.

But what was also incredibly special was that I became the first individual to score 40 points by winning the 1,500 meters, 3,000 meters, 5,000 meters, and 10,000 meters — breaking the high-point record previously held by THE Michael Johnson, I was told.

Without a doubt, I’d call that the highlight of my athletic career.

The 1,500m win, in particular, was a huge surprise.

The event was dominated by a gun runner, Mardrea Hyman, and I have no idea how I ended up winning it.

Although in hindsight, I do have some thoughts.

Earlier, in the 10,000m, I had found myself lapping a teammate and made the conscious decision to slow down and run with her to help her get a better placing.

I guess the fact that I had gone slower kept my legs fresher for the 1500m, maybe.

But, as fanciful as it sounds, I’ll always see that 1500m win as good karma for helping out a friend.

The rewards for helping others aren’t usually so obvious, and often they take a bit longer to reveal themselves.  But I like to think of it as proof that when you help others you end up winning too.

In retrospect, I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't fully grasp the magnitude of the moment back then. Not that I took it for granted by any means, but I definitely didn't understand how fortunate I was when Rene offered me to come to SMU. Now, in hindsight, I'm fully aware how instrumental that moment was.

Getting inducted

I’m very excited to revisit SMU.

I’m also very nervous.

I have no idea how I will react – in some ways it will be like going back in time 25 years and in other ways it will be a bittersweet reminder of how time marches on.

Either way, though, it’s a massive honor to be inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame.

And frankly, when I look at the caliber of the other inductees, I’m not sure that I quite fit in!

Regardless, I’m excited to catch up with old friends, explore everything that has changed, and reflect on all the great memories that made this one of the most defining chapters of my life.

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.