In Focus: Gilling’s Journey, From Denmark To Seattle

By Mason Kelley

Mathilde Gilling didn’t grow up dreaming of a day when she could play basketball in college. As a child in Denmark, basketball was big, but at the time she didn’t think it would lead her to the United States, let alone Seattle.

The family had a hoop in the yard. The court was grass, so they didn’t use it much, although they did sometimes shoot to see who would do the dishes.

As the years passed, Gilling grew toward basketball. One of four children, the Huskies’ junior post started playing because the game had woven its way into the fabric of her family.

“We grew up playing since we were young,” she said. “I think I started when I was 9, and that was because my sister started and then my brother started. We just came to the games. We thought it looked fun. A lot of people in my city were playing, friends and family, so we all started.”

All four children played for the local club team – the Hørsholm 79ers – growing up. The way athletic seasons are set up in Denmark, the older a child gets the more specialized their competitive lives become. So, instead of playing a variety of sports, the Gillings played basketball.

“It’s one of the biggest sports in the city,” Gilling said. “Nothing compared to over here, but it’s still pretty big.”

Sophie, the Gilling’s oldest, sparked the family’s American hoops dreams. She played at Seminole State College.

“At first it was my sister,” Mathilde said. “We all went over and were visiting. The gym, it wasn’t bigger than a high school gym, but I just thought that was so big, because I had never seen anything like that.”

Jonathan, now a senior at Arizona State, was the next to leave for college. 

When it came time for Mathilde to look at schools, she turned to Google. She looked up universities that offered courses that would allow her to study visual communication design. She didn’t know much about the various levels of college basketball, but she wanted to find a school that would allow her to play and take the classes she needed.

Mathilde first heard about Washington, while she was playing in Denmark. The 79ers played the Huskies.

“They came to Denmark and played,” Mathilde said. “I looked at the school, classes I could take. Then I got in contact after playing against them.”

When asked how she played against her future team, Mathilde said she doesn’t remember much about the game.

“I don’t think it was pretty,” she said.

She might not remember the matchup, but after discovering the school and doing some research, she found the right fit.

“It’s been good,” she said. “I get to study what I like.”

With her younger sister, Caroline, playing at Cal State Northridge, all four siblings have played college basketball. With three children still playing collegiately, their parents, Jesper and Eva, make the trip abroad once a year.

With three children playing on the West Coast, the Gillings coordinate their travel to see as many games as they can, fitting in all three universities.

Living so far away from home can be difficult at times, but Mathilde said her parents’ visit and staying connected online help ease the distance.

“It is difficult, but it’s so easy to get in contact with people through Skype,” she said.

What started as a way to have fun while being active has become a family business of sorts, one that has allowed four siblings to study in the United State while playing basketball.

Mathilde didn’t grow up dreaming of basketball success, but she found it anyway.

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