Dec. 26, 2012
Following a stellar high school swimming-turned-diving career in the state of Washington, Hannah McMacken came to the University of Kansas in 2006 to dive for the Jayhawks. She lettered four years in the Crimson and Blue (2006-09) and her 229.10-point six-dive platform score from the 2009 Big 12 Championships ranks third all-time in the event at KU. A three-time Academic All-Big 12 performer in the classroom, McMacken was very involved in SAAC during her time as a Jayhawk student-athlete. Since her graduation, the English teacher has made stops around the world, helping children across the globe learn the language.
What got you into swimming and diving?
“I was a diver at KU but I started out as a swimmer growing up, so I’ve always been around the water. Diving came into my life because of a cannon ball. One day at high school swim practice, I was goofing off on the diving boards before starting a long and grueling swim practice when the diving coach noticed I could jump high, point my toes and wasn’t afraid of getting hurt. He asked me to try to make the biggest splash I could and water went straight to the ceiling. I spent the rest of that practice in the diving tank trying everything the diving coach, Jim Southerland, told me to do. At the end of the day I realized diving was far more entertaining for me than swimming. I joined Jim’s club team that summer and the rest is history!”
What made you pick Kansas?
“To be honest, when Kansas was first mentioned to me, I think I grimaced! But my diving coach in Washington (state), Jim, had actually grown up in Overland Park and quickly shut down my West Coast attitude with a recruiting trip to KU. I came late in the year, since I started diving so late in high school and was able to witness a Kansas Relays event. The campus amazed me, the town enchanted me, the team befriended me, the coaches wooed me and something about it all just felt right. I flew home, wrote out a pros and cons list and proudly told my family that I was going to be a Jayhawk.”
How did you balance academics and athletics?
“I studied education at KU so I took most of my classes in a small ‘cadre’ of students. We had all the same professors, assignments, projects and practicums so I had a number of people to hold me accountable in school. I have always loved learning; thus why I became a teacher, so I usually enjoyed going to class and did not have a really hard time getting my work done because it interested me. With such small classes I was also able to have great relationships with my professors who were very tolerant of my competition schedule and always made accommodations for me. I will be forever grateful for the academic experience I had at Kansas.”
What was your favorite thing about competing for Kansas?
“Kansas is unique in its rich and meaningful traditions. While competing for KU, I learned more history about the Midwest than I had ever learned in school. Even though not all of us had grown up in Kansas, my teammates and I left KU as Jayhawks for life. Crimson pumped through our veins as our bus would pull onto the campus of Mizzou. Fight songs were screamed while we encouraged our teammates. Jayhawk pride filled the pool as we brought everyone to their feet with the Rock Chalk Chant. We grew to love the state, our school and each other. I am uncertain I’ll have such a strong bond with any other group of people in all my life. We were sisters who just hadn’t met until we were brought together by chlorine and one-piece swimsuits.”
Are there any meets that stand out to you above the rest?
“Athletically, I have very fond memories of our meet against Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz., in 2008. ASU was ranked in the top 25 at that point in the season so we went into the meet with plenty of nerves and high hopes. The meet was head-to-head almost the entire day but Kansas ended up winning by one point. I remember feeling proud of the divers’ performances as we swept both the three-meter and one-meter events. We celebrated our victory by sliding down rocks in the icy waters of Sonoma.
The diving team also went on a training trip to Hawaii in 2007. This was definitely the most memorable traveling experience I had at KU as we spent nine days together as a team bonding, luau-ing, hiking, shopping, laughing, oh and some diving, too. I’ll never forget that trip with some of the most amazing women I know (my mom even came) and one of the most hilarious and genuine coaches there ever was, Eric Elliott.”
When competing, were there any people that you dedicated your performances to?
“I dedicate a lot of what I do to my dad, who passed away when I was a child. He was a ‘go-getter,’ lived life on the edge and always accepted challenges with immense determination. For me, diving was my way of carrying out this legendary legacy of his and I thought of him before every competition, through every attempt at learning a new dive and during all my successes (and my failures)—he was right there with me. I also dedicated (and still dedicate!) my entire life to the rest of my family. They have always supported me, even when I wanted to move to the middle of the U.S. to compete in a sport I had just learned, or move to countries none of us had ever been to. That is truly unconditional love!”
What was your favorite memory of being on the team?
“I still have visions of my teammates and I dressed as zombies and dancing on stage to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ in front of all the student-athletes, coaches and support staff. Back then, we had some serious dedication to displaying our additional talents at the annual athletic talent show, ‘JayRock.’ Thanks to the efforts of former SAAC coordinator, Mike Harrity, this event continued to grow each year. Our first year, the swimming and diving team was merely a participant. The next year, we became the ‘Most Entertaining.’ And the year after that? The ‘Best Overall Skit.’ I’ll always have fond memories of all the hard work that went into JayRock and the good times that were had by all, especially while I sit here shining our trophies.”
What is the biggest obstacle you had to overcome in regards to swimming and diving?
“From the beginning, my biggest obstacle was my lack of experience. I dove more in my first semester at KU than I had in my entire life. In my first two years I was pretty anxious to improve, ended up pushing it too hard and came out with a herniated disc and stress fracture in my lower back. It took a lot of mental strength that I had yet to develop to get through that. But thanks to my teammates, my compassionate coach Eric Elliott and our incredible trainer Ann (Turner) Wallace, I was able to recover without having to redshirt and finished my career with accomplishments I was proud of. My back is healthy and strong now and doesn’t limit me from anything.”
What are you currently doing?
“I currently teach fourth grade at the American International School of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I moved here from Guatemala City, Guatemala, where I taught third grade for two years and had my eyes opened to the beauty and wisdom that can be found in seeing the world. Working with English-language learners has taught me a lot as an educator and challenges me every day. Teaching is definitely my life passion and I find true joy in watching these remarkable children discover how knowledge can positively influence the world around them. I truly love what I do and am grateful that I have the opportunity to learn about other cultures at the same time.”
Are you still swimming and diving? If so, is it competitively or recreationally?
“I always knew diving would be one of those sports that would be difficult to continue. Though I am not currently diving in any way, I did coach for my old club team this summer. It was a blast being back with the sport but the few times I actually got in the water were terrifying! I’m not sure how we ever did the things we did on those diving boards.
I do swim recreationally at an outdoor pool in Saigon twice a week. It’s pretty different (and frankly hilarious, especially with the full-body, leopard print bathing suits some people sport) than any pool in the U.S., but does help me maintain my endurance and strokes for my future goal of competing in triathlons.”
Do you still keep in contact with anyone from your team?
“Absolutely. I’ve traveled to Omaha, Neb., to watch Danielle Herrmann compete in the Olympic Trials, met up with Rhynn Malloy in Boston as we cheered on the marathoners (one of them being Kendall Matous), watched Shelby Noonan marry my old strength and conditioning coach Cody Roberts in Lawrence, grabbed dinner in Paris with Meg Proehl, Skyped with Emily Lanteigne from her teaching job in Kuwait and showed Allison Ho and Carrah Haley around Guatemala when they came to visit. My family and I follow Robyn Karlage’s races as she competes in Ironman triathlons and I receive photos and updates from coaches Clark Campbell and Eric Elliott through email and Facebook. These people are some of the most amazingly talented and driven individuals I know and I am so thankful to still be counted amongst their friends.”
Do you ever get a chance to come back to Lawrence?
“In the two-and-a-half years I have been living abroad, I’ve managed to return to Lawrence three times. I just love that town and the people in it!”