• Blaine Hoppenrath

Go Big Red?

Updated: Oct 6

I recently found myself at a Michigan State bar in Phoenix. I wasn't aware that life would take me there but alas that was where my friend was drinking and I really didn't feel like being at home by myself on a Friday night. And while it pained me slightly to utter the words "Go Green! Go White! (it just doesn't have the same ring as Go Big Red!), it did bring back all of the nostalgia that comes with college game day.

Generally speaking, I have a hard time being loyal to Nebraska. Its not that I really want any other team to do better, but it is really hard for me to reconcile my experience there as a student-athlete. It also doesn't help that the football team has been utterly pathetic since I graduated. Not that we were much better when I was in school, but at least we had some winning seasons.

About six months ago, I had a friend that was in town. I consider her a friend now, but when I was at Nebraska she was a mentor (technically a life skills counselor but basically the same thing). We went for a hike in Tucson and started talking about my swimming career at Nebraska and how by the end of my eligibility I just felt... jaded. Like my time at Nebraska has killed my love for swimming. It wasn't any one thing. It was team dynamics, questionable coaching, and lingering injuries that made my last four years of swimming some of the best and worst. When I finished my sophomore year I was coming off the best meet of my life. I swam lights out at Big XIIs and for being a non-relay swimmer was one of the few women on my team who scored in all three of there individual events.

But something shifted going into my junior year. Part of it had to be the team dynamics, part of it had to be the the tension growing between my coaches, and maybe it was the year over year poor performance at Big XIIs, but the overarching attitude of the team shifted. After 12 years of dedicating my life to swimming, I knew that the end was near. While my priorities didn't shift away from swimming, I wanted to enjoy my time outside of the pool and focus when it was time for business. I couldn't give all of my time and energy to swimming, and it was hard for a subset of teammates to understand that.

I had also lost a lot of faith in my coaching. My coach in high school may have been an asshole, but I swam fast. Collectively, as a team, it felt like we were missing the mark. Like we were all not reaching our potential. It didn't get better my senior year either.

I have a lot of unresolved feeling about my time at Nebraska. I went there to swim (and snag that degree while I was there). And ultimately I left a program that wasn't even making forward progress. A program that still isn't making forward progress.

I look back at the end of my swimming career with mostly disappointment. What defined me for most of my childhood and adolescences left me incomplete in a way. I never swam at a National meet (I can say that I qualified for one) nor medaled at conference. A decade later, I know that it was partially my fault, but I also think that I can see the stagnation of the program to understand that there were elements in the coaching program that hinder my ability to perform.

This year marked a decade since I swam my last race. The pain of how I exited the sport is still there. I have mostly the same issues with the program as I did ten years ago. It's hard for me to think about the sport even though part of me still loves it. As I watch my mother still be involved at the highest level of officiating, its has been hard to enjoy her success. I loved sharing with friends about how she was able to officiate at the Olympics, but truth be told, actually watching the meet is deeply painful for me. It has been for the last three Olympiads.

While there are so many questions about how my colligate career could have lived up to my expectations that I had for it, the question that I struggle with the most is "Why did I not go to Kansas?" I deeply loved the school (and still do) and often think that I could have had a better swimming career there. Maybe not. But it's a question that I have wrangled with all these years. KU wasn't what I needed when I was a freshman, but it was what I needed when I was a junior.

That is all neither here nor there anymore. My swimming career is one of the reasons that I have struggled with my love for Good Ole Nebraska U. I associate my failures on the swim team with the University.

But being in that Michigan State bar, around people who whole heartedly love Michigan State, who yell "Go Green! Go White!" even though it really doesn't have a great ring to it made me desperately miss Nebraska.

Not the state, not the school, not the football games or even the athletic department. It made me miss my best friends. Because one thing that I do know is that while I might not swam lights out for four years, the people that were put into my life in that town at that school were all people who were supposed to be in my life.

I met my best friend the first day on campus because we both got to campus early for the engineering orientation camp (#nerdalert).

I couldn't imagine my life with out another pushing me to think outside of my very naive upbringing.

I still wish I could be like my roommate of three years because of all the people I know, she is fiercely herself no matter what anyone else thinks.

The list goes on and on, from the people who were with me when I had my first shot of alcohol (yes I was a late bloomer) to sweaty dancing at The Rail to THE WORSE TRIP TO MEXICO EVER to sneaking recruits out the backyard of my house because the cops were outside. I can't imagine college without them and I can't imagine where I would be without them now.

So maybe when I get off work early enough I will hunt down that alumni group, dust off the letterman jacket, and yell Go Big Red across the bar. Only time will tell, but I am ready to try and start loving Nebraska for the person that it made me today.

*Just a Nebraska girl with some Michigan State guys*

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