Nov. 20, 2013
By Adam Van Brimmer
From the latest issue of Buzz Magazine
Courtney Shealy Hart owns two Olympic gold medals yet often sums up her swimming career by claiming the moniker “that other girl.”
Shealy Hart can be forgiven for feeling like a fourth wheel on the United States Olympic relay teams at the 2000 Sydney Games. The other three swimmers – Jenny Thompson, Dara Torres and Amy Van Dyken – claim a combined 28 Olympic medals and are legends of the sport.
Yet Shealy Hart is a storied swimmer in her own right, and the reminders keep coming. Georgia Tech’s fifth-year swimming coach was inducted into the Georgia Aquatic Hall of Fame in August. The hall is the third to include Shealy Hart – her alma mater, the University of Georgia, named her to the school’s Circle of Honor in 2012; and she joined her home state of South Carolina’s sports hall of fame in 2010.
“It never gets old because the different halls all mark different times in my life,” she said. “Each one provides a great chance to thank the people who supported you and got you there.”
The Georgia Aquatic Hall of Fame nod came as a surprise to Shealy Hart. She initially thought her nomination was a mistake – she’s a South Carolina native, after all, not a Georgian. And the fact the hall was new, with the first class inducted in 2012, meant there were decades of eligible aquatic stars for the selection committee to choose from.
What Shealy Hart failed to consider was her impact on swimming in Georgia. She is arguably the best swimmer in Georgia Bulldog history and an all-time collegiate swimming great.
Shealy Hart won national titles in five different events and led Georgia to back-to-back NCAA team championships in 1999 and 2000. She anchored a Bulldog relay team that broke a world record, the first world mark ever set in a collegiate meet. She was a 28-time All-American.
“Don’t let her fool you. She was good and she knows it,” said Kristi Kowal, Shealy Hart’s teammate and roommate at Georgia. “She was better than good.”
High praise from Kowal, one of the few swimmers who can claim to be in Shealy Hart’s league. Kowal won a silver medal in the 200-meter breaststroke in the same Olympics Shealy Hart claimed gold. Kowal also scored a World Championship gold in the 100-meter breaststroke. She won eight NCAA individual titles with the Bulldogs and teamed with Shealy Hart on the relay championships.
Shealy Hart and Kowal went into the Georgia Aquatic Hall of Fame and the Bulldog Circle of Honor together, appropriately enough. Sharing those experiences with the woman Shealy Hart still considers her best friend made the induction ceremonies “extra special,” Shealy Hart said.
“We shared so many accomplishments during our time together it was fun to share the hall of fames together, too,” Kowal said. “When I think about the fact we came into Georgia together as freshmen, won those NCAA titles together, swam at the Olympics together and roomed together for eight years, it just seemed right.”
Shealy Hart and Kowal’s coach, Jack Bauerle, attended both ceremonies. Shealy Hart’s bosses at Georgia Tech, athletic director Mike Bobinski and senior women’s administrator Theresa Wenzel, were at the Georgia Aquatic Hall of Fame induction.
More halls of fame could be in Shealy Hart’s future. The Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, based in Macon, is a possibility based on her college and Olympic careers. Her burgeoning coaching success could one day land her in the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame, too. Her latest induction speech, at the aquatic hall ceremony, featured a reference to elevating the Yellow Jacket “to the next level” as a coach just as she did at Georgia as an athlete.
“I can hope,” Shealy Hart said. “Georgia Tech is an exciting program to be a part of right now.”