The Champions Among Us

by Diana Ming | 8/9/12 10:00pm

From the watch parties to the tails themes to the all-too-common Collis lunch debates over Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte (Team Lochte here, duh), it seems pretty obvious that campus has caught Olympic fever. And while we can't get enough of streaming gymnastics while pretending to do work on FFB, most Dartmouth students' Olympic dreams remain, well, dreams. Yet for a select group of athletes, Dartmouth is a place where they can really get serious about sports.

Dartmouth has sent more than 150 athletes to the Olympics, including to all but one Summer Olympics since 1908, and to every Winter Olympics since their founding in 1924, according to the Athletics Department But what is it about our College on the Hill that makes it such a great place for budding Olympic stars? And do Dartmouth Olympians ever have normal college experiences?

Sailor Erik Storck '07, one of four alumni at the Summer Olympics, said that his sport was the biggest part of his Dartmouth experience outside of academics.

"Sailing was fundamental to my Dartmouth time," Storck said. "All my best friends from Dartmouth are sailors, and I created my D-Plan around it. We had a really special team atmosphere that I cherished."

Storck, an economics major, said he made sailing the biggest part of his Dartmouth life while his peers began to enter corporate recruiting and secured internships.

"I had been very single-minded in knowing that I wanted to go the Olympics for a long time, so I made the conscious decision to give everything that I had to doing this," he said.

In-season training included workouts four times per week and leaving campus nearly every weekend for competitions, according to Storck.

"Mondays were the one day we had off completely to do things like laundry, catch up on work and experience campus a little bit," he said.

While Mondays were typically filled with "pretty low-key plans," Storck said he tried to embrace doing as many things as possible.

"In the winter I went skiing a lot and had a season pass to Killington," he said.

But for Storck, one of the most memorable parts of his Dartmouth experience was sophomore summer.

"It was an awesome time and kind of a special term for most athletes because we don't have to be away practicing and competing all the time," he said. "I miss it."

Gillian Apps '06, who won gold medals at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Games with the Canadian women's ice hockey team, said it was important for her to make sure that her college experience as a Big Green student-athelte "wasn't just about hockey."

Apps, a psychology major, said she threw herself into her coursework and got actively involved in campus life.

"I loved watching a cappella, being on the river and really took advantage of my down time in a pretty typical Dartmouth fashion," she said. "I also loved playing pong and just hanging out."

While Apps was able to be on campus for her sophomore summer with her class, her schedule during her Dartmouth years was packed.

Apps was a member of both the Big Green hockey team and the Canadian national team, taking her senior year off to train and play in the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy. Apps, who returned to Dartmouth after the 2006 Olympics, said she credits the flexibility of the D-Plan with allowing her to play at a top level while still being enrolled at Dartmouth.

Apps, who currently competes for the Brampton Thunder in the Canadian Women's Hockey League, said that her studies at Dartmouth have also given her the opportunity to consider other future plans.

"Continuing my education has always been on my mind," she said. "I still want to take my GMATs and maybe go to business school or pursue something in psychology."

And while Apps considers her future plans in hockey and other pursuits, there is no denying that being an Olympian at Dartmouth was an unforgettable part of her college life.

"It was awesome having the support of the school and my Dartmouth teammates," Apps said. "I was in contact with my friends, who would tell me they were in Collis watching the game. It was really nice to be able to share my success with them, especially when we won gold."

Laura Spector '10, who competed in the biathlon in the 2010 Olympics, remembers her time at Dartmouth as extremely busy.

Spector, a biology major, said she usually trained twice per day while in season and would travel on the weekends to a biathlon range in Jericho, Vt. A typical day at Dartmouth for Spector would include an early morning workout, attending class and eating lunch and then an additional training session in the afternoon that could last up to three hours, she said.

"I don't even think I had much down time," she said. "I was traveling most weeks and in order for me to keep a normal sleep schedule I needed to be working hard to be ahead in my readings so I could still train and not be behind with my studying."

Spector said that while she feels like she missed out on many typical Dartmouth experiences like Dartmouth Outing Club First-Year Trips and studying abroad, she maintains that Dartmouth was "probably one of the best places to do what I did."

For Spector, Dartmouth's location and the D-Plan made it possible for her to train and compete at a high level while also just being a college student.

"People think it's cool and were always impressed," she said of her friends and other students on campus. "They would always tell me that they don't know how I do it. Sometimes I would be labeled as the Olympian, but my friends are my friends and that's all I really want."