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Spring 2004 Issue
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Alumni Athletes
By J.L. Bibb

The NOLS graduates featured in this column are exceptional athletes. An Olympic skier, an Olympic swimmer, a National rugby player and two ultraracers – these competitors have brought their intensity, their passion and their leadership skills to NOLS. They’ve also left NOLS with some skills for further success in sports.


Betsy Mitchell
Summer Olympics Gold and Silver Medalist—Swimming

It would take a book to recount Betsy Mitchell’s aquatic accomplishments. Here is a small sampling: Gold Medalist at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in 4x100 medley relay, Silver Medalist at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in 100-meter backstroke, Gold Medalist at the 1986 World Championships in 100-meter backstroke, 11 U.S. National Championships, seven NCAA National Championships, and an International Swimming Hall of Fame Inductee.

Mitchell began swimming at age 5, and by the time she was in junior high school, she was turning the heads of her coaches and competitors in her hometown, Marietta, Ohio. She credits family with her initial success – but not the way you might think.

“My parents had no ego investment in what I was doing,” Mitchell says. “They were very low-key. My father loves to tell the story about driving me to morning workouts, but he never woke me up, not once. I would get up and then wake him up. And my mom couldn’t tell you one of my swimming times. But they were both very supportive and unconditional in their love for me.”

Mitchell’s success carried through high school, into the Olympics and later at the University of Texas, where she was selected as the 1986 U.S. Swimmer of the Year and the 1987 Collegiate Swimmer of the Year. As she excelled on the world stage, winning at the Pan Pacific Championships, World Championship Trials and Goodwill Games, Mitchell earned a B.S. and M.S. in education. She went on to earn a Certificate of Advanced Study from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, and she worked as Alumni Director of Mercersburg Academy before coaching the University of Texas and the Dartmouth University swimming squads, and serving as Director of Athletics for the Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

In the summer of 2003, Mitchell attended a Pacific Northwest Outdoor Educator course with NOLS.

“I was just fascinated that the leadership component was primary with NOLS,” Mitchell says. “So many outfits will take people hiking or try to teach them outdoor skills. But the leadership component was primary to what we did, and it was thrilling to me. I also met the neatest people and had time to explore and listen – when in the real world, that’s the first commodity to go.”

Now Mitchell works for herself as an athletic consultant and motivational speaker. Her business, Betsy Mitchell Consulting, offers leadership and team building workshops, educational athletic counseling, sportsmanship seminars, and college recruitment counseling.

“The self-leadership that you have to demonstrate running your own business — holding your feet to the fire, meeting deadlines, being creative — it’s all hard,” she says. “I certainly have been remembering some of those leadership lessons from my NOLS course.”

When Mitchell isn’t working, she says that she takes time to go outside.

“The outdoors for me is the essence of my spirituality,” she explains. “I go to the outdoors and make treks and trips and forays. It’s my soul, and it eases my mind and lets me think clearly. I value and understand that more now than during my swimming career.”

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