Oct. 26, 2000
by Rachel Swartz
She’s a tall, athletic senior at the University of Notre Dame. She’s an All-American, a positive role model to many area girls and nearly made the United States Olympic team.
And her name is not Ruth Riley.
Her freshman year, she often may have been mistaken for her basketball-playing classmate, but Carrie Nixon is finally being recognized as herself.
Sure, she may occasionally let herself be identified as a basketball player, because it sure beats constant explanations about why someone so tall wouldn’t play basketball. But the senior from Ouray, Colo., opts to use her height and skills as a force for the Fighting Irish, not on the basketball court, but in the water, as one of the captains of the women’s swimming team.
As the 2000 Olympics went on in Sydney, Australia, most Notre Dame students skimmed the sports section to see if the USA was leading in the medal count, or maybe tuned into a few choice events. It certainly wasn’t anything personal.
For Nixon, it was.
“I have some really good friends on the team, so it’s pretty cool.”
Many children grow up idolizing some sports stars. Not many find themselves swimming in the same heat of the Olympic Trials against those same childhood idols.
This is not to say it’s always easy for Nixon to watch Olympic swimming. She’s finished 38th in the 100-meter freestyle, 29th in 100-meter butterfly and 21st in the 50-meter freestyle at the 2000 United States Olympic Trials this summer
“It is hard for me to watch, because I was so close to making it, and I thought I should be there. It is inspirational though for my future.”
And Nixon is going to take inspiration from her experience at this summer’s Trials. Like any other person, she has to grapple with would have, could have, should have, but instead of letting it get her down, she aims to use it to her advantage.
She realizes that she’s still unsure about the likelihood of swimming in the 2004 Olympics, and that this could be the last year of her competitive swimming career. Now is the time to prove her skills and talent, not to others, but to herself.
Not only does she again want to win the BIG EAST championship as a team, which would be her fourth in her four years at Notre Dame, but she has her own individual goal:
Capping off her senior year by going to Long Island, N.Y., and bringing home a national championship of her own.
“It’s a lofty goal, but I’d like to have that. And even if I don’t win, I want to be at the meet again, and swim my best times there. If I don’t continue swimming, I want to go out on a high note. I want to be at the top of the game, at my peak level, and go out saying ‘That was everything I had,'” Nixon says.
Not continue swimming? Like many of her fellow members of the Class of 2001, Nixon is still not clear on her post-graduation plans. Maybe medical school. Maybe more swimming. Maybe amateur-circuit volleyball.
Nixon was not only the captain of her high school volleyball team her senior year, she also was a three-year all-conference selection along with being all-state her senior year. It’s not something many people at Notre Dame know about, and something she wishes more people did.
“I go to volleyball games here, and I’m almost in tears when we have a good game, because I want to be out there. I’ve considered trying out for the team, but I’ve dropped that, because it’s too much work,” Nixon says.
As if she didn’t already have enough to do. The swimming season runs from September to March, and involves rigorous practice schedules and competitions.
“It’s hard. We go on training trips to Florida for fall break, and Hawaii for Christmas break, and work so hard. Everyone says ‘you’re so lucky, you get to go to Florida,’ but if they were here, doing the amount of training, they would die.”
All her hard work and training have paid off, as Nixon has earned All-America honors after placing fourth in the 50 freestyle at last year’s NCAA Championships. She is an eight-time BIG EAST champion after claiming titles in the 50 and 100 freestyle and the 100 butterfly in 2000. She also holds six Notre Dame records and five BIG EAST records. With All-America status, multiple school and conference records and titles in her possession, the 6-5 Nixon is the admiration of many little girls.
“Being a role model humbles you. You have your problems, you have your struggles, your triumphs, but out there is someone who thinks you’re the coolest person and can do no wrong. Everything I worked for, not only in the pool, but the person I am, really means something to someone else,” Nixon says.
The person she is happens to be a loyal, if unlikely, daughter of Notre Dame. Her mother, Nancy, is a UCLA alum, her father, John, rowed crew for USC, and her brother, Chris is now a freshman at Kansas. But Carrie has been loyal to Notre Dame since a recruiting visit during a football weekend her senior year in high school. Then, after meeting TV personality Regis Philbin on the sidelines, and running through the fight song in her head, she knew Notre Dame was the right place for her. Now, she’s sure to get to the game early, watch the band play, the team run out onto the field and generally enjoy herself as student while she has time left.
“I skip out on tailgating – I’ll have the rest of my life to tailgate. This is the only time I have to be a student, and I love it.”
In May, she’ll graduate with a degree in anthropology and pre-professional studies.
“I can’t even imagine how hard I’m going to cry. I know I’ll always have Notre Dame with me, I’ll always have that connection, but these four years as a student are irreplaceable. You leave here a Notre Dame person, and it stays with you the rest of your life. It really is more than just a diploma and a ring.”
Just as Nixon will always have Notre Dame with her, Notre Dame will always be glad to have had her for these last four years.