As senior swimmer Karlee Bispo mounted the platform for her last race at the NCAA Championships, she was struck with the realization that her days as a Longhorn were coming to a close.
“It was kind of a reality check that this is it and I won’t be a college student anymore,” she said. “It really does fly by. I know that’s so cliche but you just have to enjoy every moment.”
Bispo, who earned seven All-American honors and broke the school record in the 100 freestyle in her last meet, wasn’t the only one with sentimental thoughts. Senior Leah Gingrich, who was already a two-time All-American and five-time Big 12 Champion by the end of her junior year, was also competing in her last meet as a Texas swimmer and soaking up the time with her teammates.
“I’ll miss the team,” Gingrich said. “That’s always the most fun because I get to spend all day every day with 30 of my closest friends. When I move back home, it’s going to be a lot different and I’m definitely going to miss them.”
Both Gingrich and Bispo hailed to Texas from other states — Bispo from California, Gingrich from Pennsylvania. However, both were roped in by school spirit and the thrills that came with competing as Longhorns. “I always really liked the meets against A&M because the crowds get really excited and the team gets really excited,” Gingrich said.
“We bring out the best in each other during that meet.”
Some of Bispo’s favorite memories came from a junior season with much to prove, she said.
“Coming back and winning the Big 12 Championship and being able to have it and NCAAs here at our home pool was one of my proudest moments,” she said.
Gingrich chose Texas over Georgia and USC after a niche-finding recruiting trip.“I just really felt comfortable here,” she said. “It was just my special fit.” And while four years in the water would bring plenty of lessons and experiences for Gingrich, she said she learned just as much out of the pool. “You just grow a lot going through college and especially being in a high level sport like this,” she said. “There are a lot of ups and downs, but you learn how to deal with all the adversities that come along with it.”
Gingrich will continue to train for the upcoming Olympic trials and is set to graduate in December with an education degree. After that, she’ll shed her goggles and swim cap in favor of crayons and lesson plans to fulfill her dream of becoming a kindergarten teacher. She won’t, however, forget the joys of her days as a college student. “It’s been the best four years of my life,” Gingrich said. “I’ve learned a lot here and made really great friends here, so I wouldn’t change anything.”
With the prospect of competing on the Olympic team, Bispo’s post-college plans are a bit more complicated, but she’s got a few ideas.
“It depends on this summer and what ends up happening with swimming, and after summer I’ll start making some decisions,” Bispo said. “Medical school’s in the back of my mind, and my other route is to keep swimming, get married and become a mom and teach high school chemistry and anatomy. There’s a lot of things flying around in my head right now.”
From adjusting to dorm life to coping with the pressure of national swim meets, Bispo said college has shaped her into a more independent person.
“I wasn’t a really good decision maker, so being away from my parents, I’ve learned to make decisions on my own and do things for myself,” she said. “In many ways I’ve grown as a person.”
Like Gingrich, Bispo will leave UT as a graduate next December, with high hopes for those swimmers still part of the team.
“I definitely think our program is building right now, and every year you learn something,” she said. “It’s a team that is growing back to the potential we had and the dominance we had during the ‘80s. We’re definitely heading in the right direction.” Bispo and Gingrich will head in directions of their own with memories of rivalries, friendships and burnt orange pride accompanying them as they continue on their way.