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Oct 29, 2014

“You’re going to college where?”

Those were the words my mom said to me as I called her from the Atlanta airport during my senior year of high school. She wasn’t too thrilled. Here’s that story…

My father was in the military, and as such we traveled around quite a bit. I went to high school in both Virginia and California. I had stops before that in Wisconsin and Arizona. I was no stranger to travel and relocation by the time I graduated from high school in Novato, CA, just north of San Francisco. So I’m sure no one will be surprised to hear that I chose to go to college across the country from California at the University of Kentucky, in Lexington, KY. But how did I end up there? A little bit of luck and stupidity were involved.

I was a competitive swimmer in my younger years. I had some success on a national level, and coming out of high school I was being recruited by a number of schools. The NCAA limits the number of school-paid recruiting visits a prospective student-athlete can take to 5. And coming from a family of modest means, I had to choose which schools I wanted to visit. I decided that the local California schools were not worth me using a paid recruiting trip, as I could drive to most of those schools. So, the schools I visited were, in order, Notre Dame, Arizona State University, Kansas University, The University of Wisconsin, and The University of Kentucky.

Arizona State and Kansas were off the table right after I finished each visit. Nothing wrong with the schools, the fit just didn’t feel right. I liked Wisonsin a lot, but I opted not to go there about a week after my visit. Again, it didn’t feel right. I was convinced I was going to Notre Dame. Everything felt right about that school. And my parents really wanted me to go there. I had a trip to Kentucky left, and I wanted to have a fun weekend. So even though I was already committed to Notre Dame in my head, I went to Kentucky for my recruiting trip in the early Spring ofmy senior year of high school. My final recruiting trip.

There are a lot of things I could say about my trip to Kentucky that weekend. I’ll keep it short, since you already know how this turns out. I had a great time. Everything clicked. I had a great meeting with some academic people in the Biology department. The coach, Gary Conelly, was straight-forward, which I really liked. My host, Greg Robinson, was a lot of fun. The facilities were really nice. I called my parents from the Atlanta airport on my way home (we didn’t have cell phones then) and told them I was going to sign with Kentucky. They were a little upset. They really wanted me to go to Notre Dame. But my mind was made up.

So, I mentioned it was a bit of luck and a bit of stupidity that led me to Kentucky. The luck was that it was my last recruiting visit. I had 4 other schools to compare it to. I knew what I liked and what I didn’t at that point. Advantage UK. The stupidity part was due to the fact that I was 18 and was convinced, as all 18 year-olds are, that I knew everything. I was certain my parents were the most stupid people in the world, and that I needed to get as far away from them as I could. Kentucky was the furthest school away from California recruiting me. Game over.

I signed with Kentucky in April, and moved to Lexington in August. I spent the next 5 years of my life there. They were 5 of the best years of my life. I made great friends, friends I still see to this day. I had wonderful experiences swimming and traveling for competition. I may have chosen Kentucky based on my gut feelings. Or based on luck. Or stupidity. But looking back, I’d make the same choices all over again.

And with that, I wish everyone out there a safe and healthy week.

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Port Charlotte, FL 33954




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Gregory Hengel,
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