The Rudy of D3 Swimming

Drew Hedlund has Tiger Blood.

In the movie Rudy, Samwise Gamgee goes from hard working underdog, to playing for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team… er Sean Astin, er something like that. Point is Rudy was an underdog… like Rocky, The guy in the King’s Speech, and the D3 swimming version, Drew Hedlund.

I know most in the D3 world have never heard of Hedlund, most who follow MIAC and even Gustavus swimming don’t know who Drew Hedlund is.

So who is Drew Hedlund, and why should you care?

In 2007, Hedlund swam on the runner-up 200 free relay at the Minnesota State High School Championship at the University of Minnesota. His Roseville teammate at the time was Michael Richards. For those that don’t know, Richards went on to the University of Minnesota and was the BigTen champ in the 50 and 100 free this year. Hedlund’s college path was a little different.

His 22.03 time on that relay was respectable, but not really what Dennis Dale was looking for at the U. But he got a call from Jon Carlson at Gustavus Adolphus College, in St. Peter MN, to come aboard and go out for the team.

Hedlund spent the next 3 years on a deep Gustavus roster, and always seemed to be one of the first bubble guys to not make the conference roster each year. Not making the conference roster once for a D3 swimmer might be enough for them to quit the team and join a band or something. Not making it 3 years running is another story entirely.

Hedlund didn’t quit though. He stuck with the team. He worked hard. He cheered his teammates on year-after-year from the stands of the University of Minnesota Natatorium, where he stood on the podium’s 2ndplace rung with his Roseville teammates as a high school senior.

But in 2011, things changed for Hedlund. Through hard work, and maybe because he was a senior and had stuck with it for so long, he was selected to the Gustavus conference roster.

Now I realize Gustavus is not Kenyon, or Denison, or Emory when it comes to making the team, but it is still a team that typically has to cut good swimmers from their conference roster each year… something Hedlund had become used to.

At the conference meet, Gustavus coach Jon Carlson had to make a choice. Would he try to “stack” the 200 free relay with his top sprinter, or would he put him on other relays with a better shot at winning conference and/or making nationals. In what most at the time thought was a smart move, he put his top guys on other relays, and left the 200 free relay to a hodgepodge of whatever he had left.

That “whatever was left” group was not super intimidating. You had a decent senior who was hoping to break 21 in the open, a junior who also barely made the team, a freshman who was no lock for conference either, and Hedlund… who had swam his prelims open 50 that morning in an un-impressive 22.15

Nobody gave this relay much of a shot. There was no Michael Richards on this relay. There wasn’t even the team’s best sprinter on this relay. But they still swam it because you still get points for finishing 4th place.

Well, the team didn’t get 4th. With each swimmer maybe putting together the best swims of their lives, they all dropped significant time from their previous bests. Sam DeFranco, the senior trying to just break 21 got off to a decent start with a 21.21. Then, Zach Nachtsheim, a junior bubble swimmer himself who wasn’t even entered in the 50, goes an unbelievable 20.32. Hedlund was up next. He’d never so much as sniffed 21 in the open. But he busts off the swim of a lifetime going a 20.96. And Sam Olson-Anstett, a freshman middle of the pack guy closes in a 20.84. The team touches out favorites St. Thomas, St. Johns, and Carleton to take first place… and once again, Hedlund was on a podium at the University of Minnesota Natatorium. This time, 4 years later, it was on the top plank, not the 2nd one.

But the story doesn’t end there, the guy who was sitting in the stands the last 3 years watching his team in February, just added another month to his career. His relay that won the MIACs, that nobody thought had a chance to even finish top 3, will compete in Knoxville at D3 nationals this March.

Is there any magic left? Who knows? But right now I’m shopping the script to Sean Astin to see if he has a believable flip-turn and can do a decent Minnesota accent.

We’d like to thank Casey McGovern for this interesting and insightful article on a swimmer we otherwise might not have heard about.

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