MADISON, WI, January 6. “WHAT better way to make a mother proud than by following in her footsteps at the University of Wisconsin?”
This was the question asked by Brian Lee as part of the school's celebration of 30 years of women’s intercollegiate athletics in UW-Madison.
Not by having the same major, or living in the same dormitory or joining the same sorority, but by also being a member of the swimming team.
Thirty-two years ago, Jean (Beyler) Brager joined the UW club swimming team and continued with it when it became a varsity sport in 1974. Her second-oldest daughter, Kristy, has carried on the swimming torch as a freshman on the squad this year.
"I'm thrilled," Jean said. "I tried not to influence Kristy where to go, but I'm happy she ended up at Wisconsin."
Although the end results were the same, the paths the two took to become Badger student-athletes were quite different.
Jean grew up in Madison, Wis., where she and all the neighborhood girls decided to try out swimming when they were about eight years old. Fortunately, the city had many community pools that other cities did not have, affording the girls an opportunity to try out the sport.
"A lot of my friends my age wish they had similar opportunities," Jean said.
However, by the time the girls entered high school, they had to quit because only the boys had prep teams back then.
Kristy, on the other hand, started competitively swimming at age seven and continued on throughout high school while picking up soccer and basketball along the way. Both she and her sisters Laura (a senior swimmer at UW-Green Bay) and Katlyn (a junior swimmer in high school), all of whom were raised in Green Bay, Wis., got involved in the sport through their mom.
They always received never-ending support from their parents and were encouraged to try out all sorts of activities.
When it came time to choosing schools, Kristy knew her mom wanted her to attend UW but realized "ultimately the decision fell upon me."
"I did consider swimming at UW-Green Bay with Laura, but I wanted to try it at UW," Kristy said.
A typical practice schedule for her would be two practices a day (except for Wednesday), one beginning at 6 a.m. and the other at 2:45 p.m. Weightlifting is done three times a week, and there is a two-and-a-half hour practice Saturday mornings.
The team's schedule includes dual meets and invitationals against some of the top programs in the nation, including Arizona and Texas.
During the club days, the team would practice twice a week and compete against other state schools' club teams on Saturdays.
When the women's swimming was elevated to varsity status on July 1, a whole new world opened up. Swimmers were given suits, letter jackets, paid travel expenses and even a banquet at the Field House.
"(The change) was dramatic," Jean said. "We had two-a-day practices and weightlifting. We started swimming against other Big Ten schools. It wasn't overwhelming, but it was pretty intense."
Added Kristy: "My mom told me stories from the transition from club to varsity and how far women's athletics have come since she was here. It's important that women's athletics have made strides.
"It's also pretty cool to see how far women's athletics have come in general."
Some day, Kristy would like for her children to be the third generation to swim at Wisconsin. But she says she would be like her mom in that she would let her kids decide what school to attend, although Kristy would still at least influence them to swim.
Hopefully Kristy's children will make her proud, just like she did for her mom.