Kristin Hoffman was an underdog.
The senior on the Seattle U women’s swim team took a different path than many Division I student-athletes. She didn’t know she was going to swim in college. She wasn’t sure she would be good enough for a DI program. She thought she would be moving across the country after high school in Mercer Island, Wash.
Funny how things change.
“I wanted to leave the area,” Hoffman said, laughing. “I applied to three schools in Boston (and one in Vancouver BC) and I had never been there but in the end, partly because of financial reasons, it was between here and UW. I chose the school where I don’t think there’s a closer school to my parent’s house than Seattle U. So it wasn’t my plan, but I’m really glad I’m here.”
Hoffman hadn’t planned on swimming at Seattle U. In fact, when she finally decided to reach out, her thought was, “maybe I’ll be able to make it.”
But Hoffman knew she wasn’t quite fast enough for a DI program. Not at that time.
So when she got her e-mailed response from head coach Craig Nisgor, it was about what she expected.
“I got one of those – ‘you’re not quite what we’re looking for’ – responses,” Hoffman recalled, chuckling a bit to herself.
Hoffman dropped time in her final year of high school swimming, so ever-persistent, she reached out again. This time, Nisgor offered her to come on a recruiting trip, which she took.
The swim program is one of the reasons Hoffman decided to become a Redhawk.
“I really liked the team here and I decided that swimming in college is something I couldn’t experience later in life, so I decided to go here,” Hoffman said.
The first three weeks, Hoffman admits, she resembled a “deer in the headlights” during practice.
“Maybe it was because I was unsure if I was fast enough or if this was the right fit for me,” Hoffman said. Coming in I was really nervous if this would work.”
It didn’t take long for Hoffman to prove to herself and others that this would work, and that she did belong on the Seattle U swim team.
During her freshman year, she continued to improve and kept up with her training. That all paid off when she made the 4x100 relay team at the end of the season as an anchor – one she wasn’t expecting to make – that ended up breaking the school record.
Hoffman’s confidence soared as the next year, she made four relay teams as a sophomore, all of which broke school records at the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Championships.
Then, junior year rolled around, and suddenly, Hoffman found herself with a season-ending injury.
“I got injured in my third meet, so I swam for six weeks out of six months,” Hoffman said, shaking her head.
Hoffman remembers the injury vividly – when and how she tore that ligament in her left elbow. It was too strange not to remember, as she had never experienced elbow problems before.
“I just came into the wall finishing at the meet and I shifted weirdly,” Hoffman said. “Instead of catching myself to finish, my arm was locked and the touchpad slipped a bit, so all my momentum tore it completely.”
Two and a half weeks later, Hoffman had Tommy John surgery, a procedure usually experienced by baseball and softball players. Because swimmers don’t normally tear that ligament, doctors told Hoffman she would be out for about six months.
Sitting out, Hoffman remembers, was difficult to comprehend.
“I spent six weeks in one of those arm braces and I couldn’t get in the water with it, so that was weird. I don’t think I’ve spent that much time out of a swimming pool since Middle School,” Hoffman said. “It wasn’t that long ago, but it feels like a different time when that happened, where I wasn’t able to swim or I would just be on the pool deck watching my teammates and not able to participate in the same way. That was just something I don’t want to experience again.”
The worst part, though, was having to take a break when she was on an upswing in her collegiate swimming career.
“It felt like a huge setback,” Hoffman said.
The positive person in Hoffman, though, made her realize the silver lining of her injury.
“When I was sitting out it made me realize how much I did love swimming and how much I missed it and wanted to get back to it,” Hoffman said.
Despite knowing she would only have a year left to compete once she came back from the injury, Hoffman didn’t care. It was worth it. She desperately wanted to get back with her team.
So Hoffman did what she had grown accustomed to doing, and worked hard to earn back her place.
Hoffman’s season ended on Feb. 25 at the WAC Championships.
Weeks before then, she had reflected on how she wanted to leave the program.
“I’ll definitely miss my teammates and I hope that I’ll be missed in some groups, too,” Hoffman said. “I want them to continue to push forward and keep on improving because we’re definitely on that track right now. I think looking at our record book, there are only two records that I haven’t seen broken in my time here, which is something most schools can’t say. I’m sure it won’t be long before those two are gone. I think the team has a lot of potential and I’m excited to see them grow.”
But Hoffman didn’t have to wait until after she had graduated to see those two records broken.
Both the records she talked about were broken at the WAC Championships, and she was there to see it happen.
It was an exciting end to her career, as Hoffman anchored the 400 medley team that broke the school record and finished in second place, the highest place a Seattle U relay team has finished at the WAC Championships. She also anchored the 400 free relay that broke the school record, and swam the second leg of the 800 free relay that had the second-fastest time ever.
Hoffman doesn’t take her time at Seattle U for granted. She said it helped her grow up, and for that, she’s grateful.
“Over time I definitely became more confident, and I think that was due to the swim team and the program,” Hoffman said. “I found my voice.”
More confident, more loud, but still an underdog.
And that’s something she’s proud of.
“One of the things I’m most proud of from my time here is coming in as an underdog, and for how many relays or top performances I’ve been a part of, I’m really proud of that,” Hoffman said. “Coming in as someone who didn’t have high expectations and exceeding those is something I do want to be remembered for.”