Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk: Melissa Swartz
Melissa Swartz spent her time at the University of Kansas in the 1990s winning several medals and honors for KU on the track, however the medals she won after KU have meant the most. In 2007, Swartz and her husband Deloe had their first daughter, Samantha. Swartz thought a perfect way to bond with her daughter would be through running.
“When I had my daughter I really wanted to win a medal for her,” Swartz said. “I signed up for a local race and competed while pushing her in a stroller. As I was running, I noticed I was actually passing quite a few people and ended up finishing first in my age group. I gave her the medal and it’s something we’re both really proud of.”
Two years later, they’d welcome another child, Tyler, who Swartz again felt she needed to run for.
“This time, I was pushing a double stroller so it was a little harder to gain speed,” Swartz said with a laugh. “We finished in a decent time but I didn’t win my age group. I still earned a medal for him and we all had a ton of fun racing in the event.”
Swartz isn’t pushing track on her children but thinks her daughter may shine on the track one day.
“Samantha is still fairly young (6) but she seems to enjoy running,” said Swartz. “Time will tell if she pursues track or not but I could definitely see her competing in the future.”
Swartz also believes her son may follow the same dream she had as a child.
“I grew up dreaming one day I’d be playing basketball inside Allen Fieldhouse. Tyler is just four years old but is the size of a five to six-year-old. He’s the size of a tank and may be a future Jayhawk,” Swartz said.
Growing up in Overland Park, Kan., Swartz spent her childhood days watching the University of Kansas basketball teams compete and mimic those student-athletes in her driveway.
“I would go outside all the time and pretend I was Darnell Valentine and Danny Manning,” Swartz said. “I would countdown the clock and always try to hit a buzzer beater. I even wore numbers 14 and 25 for most of my basketball career. At that point in my life I was sure I’d be a basketball player but then I really started to get into running. I’m still a huge basketball fan though; you pretty much have to be if you’re a KU fan.”
Swartz played her high school career at Shawnee Mission West competing in both women’s basketball and track. She earned several scholarship offers during her time with the Lady Vikings but eventually narrowed her choices to two schools.
“I was down to Kansas and Vanderbilt,” Swartz said. “If I went to Vanderbilt I’d be able to do both basketball and track but if I went to KU it’d be strictly track. I knew Kansas was the right place for me. I loved the University and KU was in our family blood.”
Swartz decided to follow her heart and made the short journey from Overland Park to Lawrence, where she would see a familiar face as she made the transition from SM West to Kansas.
“My high school rival, Kristi Kloster, also decided to attend Kansas,” said Swartz. “It was very cool being on the same team as her after having so many intense meets against her in high school.”
Little did she know at the time, Swartz was about to embark on a journey that would change the track atmosphere at KU. Swartz’s freshman through junior years saw KU consistently getting better, but her senior season is when things really started to click for not only Swartz, but for Kansas.
“We had so many great athletes coming into my senior season,” Swartz said. “We knew we had a real possibility to achieve some big things.”
Swartz was named a team captain heading into the 1996 indoor track season and the early accolade wouldn’t be her last. Swartz and KU were in command of the track scene that season.
During the 1996 Big Eight Conference meet Swartz and her long-time rival, Kloster, dominated the competition winning three events. Swartz claimed the 3,000 meters title with a time of 9:34.90 and also won the distance medley relay (DMR) along with Kloster, Kerri Woolheater and Latanya Holloway finishing with a time of 11:26.97. Swartz became the first female Jayhawk to win the 3,000-meter race at the conference meet in school history but her biggest moment was just around the corner.
The Kansas women’s track team qualified for the 1996 National Championships for the first time in school history. Competing in the national meet gave Swartz one more chance to achieve her track dreams.
“I had bronchitis in the regional meet and ran poorly,” Swartz said. “We qualified for nationals and I was so happy for the team. At the national meet, Kristi and I ran really well and ended up being named All-Americans, which I had dreamed of my entire life.”
Swartz was a two-time All-American that year, earning the honor in both the mile and DMR. She was also named the 1996 Jayhawk of the Year.
“I loved every minute of my career at Kansas,” said Swartz. “I definitely made the right decision for my college choice and KU still remains a big part of my life.”
Since college Swartz has moved around the United States several times. The most recent move was from California to Maryland. Though she’s several states away, Swartz follows KU athletics constantly.
“We’re always watching KU basketball and football games no matter where we are,” Swartz said. “We followed them on TV recently in the Battle 4 Atlantis and plan to attend the men’s basketball game at West Virginia this season.”
Her connections with the track program also remain strongly in tact.
“I was a part of the hiring committee that chose Stanley Redwine to take over the track program in 2001,” Swartz said. “Watching them win the National Championship last season was an amazing feeling. Though I wasn’t running on the team, I really felt a connection with the University and it was a very proud moment.”
In the future Swartz hopes she can bring her family back to Lawrence, reminisce on her track days and show Samantha and Tyler the beautiful scenery that accompanies KU.
“Neither of my children have been to Lawrence, but they’re very familiar with the Crimson and Blue as we have tons of KU shirts,” said Swartz. “I’d really like to bring them back and show them all the cool things around Lawrence and show them where I used to run.”
Though her children haven’t been to Lawrence, Swartz is sure they’d fit in amongst the KU faithful.
“They both know the ‘Rock Chalk’ chant by heart,” Swartz said with excitement. “It was something we were sure to teach them at a young age. Like I said earlier, KU is in my family’s DNA.”
Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk