Through The Eyes

An Oakland Athletics site presented by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

More Than Ordinary

By Susan LaGrand

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

I’m not one of the special ones.

You hear of the kids with the natural-born talents—the Michael Phelps of the world—that were born to be superstars. That was never my story, and I was always okay with that.

I thought I’d be a good addition to Oakland University but mostly as a filler swimmer—you know, someone that could get those extra points.

I never thought I’d be the one breaking records.

But well, here I am.

The text that changed everything

While I didn’t always know Oakland would be the school for me, I was 100% confident I’d be a swimmer in college. My mind was already made up as far back as eighth grade. 

Granted, I never pictured myself swimming for some Power Five school, though. I knew that wasn’t my path. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t driven. Not at all. And whether my drive would lead me to a Division I or a Division III school was somewhat irrelevant at the time.

I really pushed myself during those years. My talent wasn’t enough to get on a lot of schools’ radar. But with the right work ethic and attitude, I knew I could go places.

A couple of girls I swam against in high school invited me out to Oakland to see the team compete one day, and I ended up introducing myself to coach Pete Hovland after the meet. It was one of those moments where everything just clicked. Everything we had to say aligned, and I just loved being around the team.

So an obvious no-brainer decision, right?

Yeah, not quite.

I’m an overthinker, and I was sort of getting in my own head about the whole thing. 

But luckily, Coach Pete sent me the text message that changed everything.

He basically said he knew I had a lot of other offers out there from a bunch of great schools, but Oakland could be the place for me to excel, not only athletically, but also academically.

That one text message sealed the deal for me.

Coach Pete was right. Yes, I wanted to swim, but I was going to college as a student-athlete, not an athlete-student.

Deep down, I believe I always knew it would be Oakland, but that one moment solidified it. It’s when I knew I’d found my new home.

The next appetizer

My expectations as a freshman weren’t that high, honestly. I just wanted to show up and chip in my little contributions to the team to the best of my ability.

But then, the Horizon League Championships happened.

I remember starting and finishing my race but nothing quite in the middle. What can I say? Sometimes that’s how it goes with distance races for me.

One of the girls I competed against was a former teammate, a fantastic swimmer and backstroker. My goal from the very beginning was to try keeping up with her to the halfway point. If I could just stick with her for a while, it wouldn’t be a complete loss.

That was my goal.

But once I reached the halfway point, I noticed she wasn’t there anymore.

Did I lose her? What happened?

My muscles were on fire at that point. I barely had any energy left when I hit the wall and looked up at the board, flashing a 1:56.74. I knew she wasn’t with me anymore.

In that very moment, I knew I’d won the race.

Not only did I win, but I also set a new league record.

I was stunned and in complete disbelief.

I remember getting out of the water and hugging my teammates. Just being there and sharing that moment with them—you never forget something like that.

But I couldn’t just stop there, you know?

You can probably tell by now that I wasn’t the most confident athlete in the world. But after this performance, I thought to myself, “If I could do that, what else could I do?”

So, I started writing down a few goals at the beginning of the season—a couple pretty easy ones, a harder one, and one that would take more than a year to complete.

I believe that’s the biggest reason for my success—that perseverance and willingness to always shoot higher. I was never satisfied. I like to compare it to going to a restaurant when you’re really hungry and order an appetizer. When you get your order, that appetizer just makes you want more.

It’s like that for me with swimming and my life, in general. Every little goal I get to check off my list just makes me hungrier for the next one.

Whether it was after I earned the Horizon League Athlete of the Year award or qualified for NCAAs, every time I accomplish something, I’m already eyeing the next milestone.

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At the NCAA Championships, I had the president of the school sending me mail and congratulating me. I've also received positive feedback in the form of texts from the athletics director. It's like everyone knows everyone and supports everyone.

Where I’m supposed to be

One of the most important realizations I came to early on in my college career is that you don’t have to be one of the special ones to have an appetite for success.

I’ve always just strived to make the most of my opportunities, and Oakland has given me the best shot at doing exactly that.

I came from a high school that was very football-oriented. So it was typical for swimming to fall through the cracks sometimes. But that wasn’t the case with Oakland, and it was honestly one of the many things that drew me to the school in the first place.

At the NCAA Championships, I had the president of the school sending me mail and congratulating me. I’ve also received positive feedback in the form of texts from the athletics director. It’s like everyone knows everyone and supports everyone.

That was something I’d never really experienced before anywhere else.

There’s also the unique bond I share with my teammates. I think the women’s and men’s teams are really close. We do everything together, and there’s this great support system. In times like these, especially given the circumstances of this past year, it’s nice to be part of such a community.

I really wouldn’t have wanted to go through a year like this one with any other team or program. I’m better now because of my teammates.

They encouraged me to be the best version of myself. 

They believed in me at times when I wasn’t even sure if I believed in me. 

They pushed me to be something more than ordinary.

And for that, I’ll always be grateful.