June 11, 2014
The Big Ten, the nation’s oldest collegiate conference, commemorates the 100th anniversary of a very unique tradition – the Big Ten Medal of Honor. The conference's most exclusive award was the first of its kind in intercollegiate athletics to recognize academic and athletic excellence. The Big Ten Medal of Honor was first awarded in 1915 to one student-athlete from the graduating class of each university who had "attained the greatest proficiency in athletics and scholastic work." Big Ten schools currently feature more than 8,200 student-athletes, but only 24 earn this prestigious award on an annual basis. In the 99 years of the Medal of Honor, over 1,300 student-athletes have earned this distinction.
Derek Toomey was named a winner of this year’s B1G Medal of Honor, representing the top male athlete at the University of Minnesota.
Toomey’s list of accomplishments is long, and his swimming career is far from over. Highlights of his time as a Golden Gopher include:
• 50 Free Record, 18.95, first B1G swimmer to race under 19 seconds
• 100 Free Record, 42.42
• 200 Free Relay Record, 1:16.78
• 15-time All-American
• Three-time, first-team All-American
• Three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection
• First-team All-Big Ten selection: 2013, 2014
• MVP, Senior year
• Co-captain, Junior and senior season
What does receiving the Big Ten Medal of Honor mean to you?
Receiving this award is quite an honor, and means a lot to me. It feels great that I’ve been able to bring this award back to the Men’s Swim and Dive team, since the last male on this team to win it was in the late 90’s. I have always put a lot of emphasis on hard work in the pool, in the classroom, and in the community, and I’m very glad my hard work has paid off in so many ways.
What is your favorite memory from your time at Minnesota?
That’s a tough question, there are so many to choose from! Living in Pioneer Hall freshmen year, meeting new people and exploring the college life, certainly provided me with great memories. As being part of the Swim and Dive team for four years I’ve been to countless championship meets, an international meet, training trips to Hawaii, and we even joined in on the Harlem Shake craze as we danced in the snow… in our speedos. I’ve been to Spring Jam concerts, homecoming shows, football games, hockey games, each of which have given me memories to hang on to. It’s definitely way too hard to just pick one!
How has being a student-athlete impacted your life?
I could go the sentimental route and say that I have formed strong relationships with people that will last a lifetime, I could go the professional route and say that I have made networking connections that will help later in life for my career advancement, I could go the life skills route and say that I have learned how to manage time, lead teammates, solve problems, etc. and I could go the fun route and say that I have had four amazing years filled with amazing experiences. Truth is, being a student athlete at the University of Minnesota has given me all of these things and has shaped me to be the person I am today.
What advice would you give to current members of the men's swimming and diving team?
In the pool, don’t be afraid to make it hurt. Get everything you can out of every practice, if you don’t you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. Set your goals high and do what it takes to accomplish them! In academics, go to class, do your homework. Just by doing that you’re already set up to do well in the course. Don’t be lazy! And lastly, find something to do in your free time. If all you do is swim and school, you’re going to burn out. Find a hobby, do community service, do something!
What are your plans now that you have graduated?
This summer I am staying in Minnesota to train for nationals with a great group of professional postgraduate swimmers. Beyond that I am going to follow my dream of training for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. I’ll be putting almost all of my time and effort into training for a couple years and see where swimming can take me. Upon completing my swimming career, I plan on attending a physical therapy program to become the best physical therapist I can be!
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