Olympian, TV Personality and Stanford Alum: Summer Sanders

by Michelle Smith

Summer Sanders has won Olympic gold medals and done national television work.

But she will tell you without hesitation that the most important time of her life came in the days she spent on the Stanford campus back in the early 1990's.

"It was the first time in my life that I understood what it meant to be part of a team sport," Sanders said. "Which is so ironic, because people think of swimming as an individual sport."

Sanders, a native of Roseville, Calif., was not yet an Olympian when she arrived at Stanford to swim for legendary coach Richard Quick in 1991. The Cardinal would finish third in the NCAA Championships that year, but Sanders was named the NCAA Swimmer of the Year.

In 1992, Stanford won the national championship, and again Sanders was named Swimmer of the Year. She finished her Stanford career winning six individual and four relay NCAA titles. She is the only Stanford swimmer ever to win two Swimmer of the Year Awards.

Later that summer in Barcelona, Sanders won two golds, a silver and bronze medal at the Olympic Games and she became a national star.

But Sanders said it is that time on The Farm that she remembers most fondly.

"When it comes to the NCAA championships, everything is on the line and you are giving every ounce of your energy in three days of gnarly competition, giving everything you have for your team," Sanders said. "I've said forever that winning the NCAA Championship was my greatest accomplishment because we did it as a team.

"It's a great moment to share with some amazing women."

But Sanders also remembers the days away from the pool - the rafting trip that went awry, leaving her and her teammates in the rain, standing under a bridge, cold and hungry.

She remembers bungee jumping with her Stanford teammates in New Zealand and the times she and her teammates spent together at social gatherings, "where we got to be college students and not talk about swimming."

 "I always felt like I had such a unique experience, but I think everyone else was experiencing the same thing," she said.

Sanders said she felt like she was "surrounded by greatness" at Stanford, in and out of the athletic department.

"There was the Hoover (Institution) think tank, and the people who developed Google and Yahoo were there and you are aware that all this stuff is going on around you," Sanders said. "Oh, and yeah, there were sports as well. Everywhere I looked people were winning NCAA championships.

"I remember watching TV and they showed once how Stanford ranked in the Olympic medal count."

Sanders said that competing in the Pac-10 was "empowering."

"It was a special environment," Sanders said. "Never for a moment did I feel that we weren't equal to the guys. This is the way it should be at every school, but I'm sure it wasn't.

"I was so grateful for that. It was such an extraordinary experience."

In her post-swimming career, she's written a book, been a spokesperson and commentator and has carved out an impressive television career. She's appeared on "Good Morning America" and "The Rachael Ray Show" as a correspondent. She was a contestant on "Celebrity Apprentice" and has hosted a variety of sports-oriented shows. She has her own website, promoting healthy living. She is married to Olympic skier Erik Schlopy and has two young children.

But she looks back on her team as a college athlete with unmistakable joy.

"The further removed from it [I am], the more precious it is to me," Sanders said.

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