Four Athletes with SSC Ties Prepare for Olympic & Paralympic Games
When the 2012 Olympic Games officially kick off with opening ceremonies in London on Friday, four athletes with ties to Sunshine State Conference member institutions will be among those vying for Olympic gold.
Two men’s swimmers, a women’s soccer player, and a wheelchair rugby athlete have SSC roots. They will represent four different countries in London.
In swimming, current Florida Southern College student-athlete Allan Gutierrez will represent his home country of Honduras. Fellow swimmer Esau Simpson, a current student-athlete at Nova Southeastern University, will be the lone swimming representative from his home country of Grenada. Melissa Ortiz, who just completed her final year of eligibility at Lynn University, will take the field as a member of the Colombian women’s soccer squad. Former Eckerd College student Nick Springer will represent the United States in the Paralympic Games, competing in the sport of wheelchair rugby.
Ortiz will begin her first Olympic experience in advance of Friday’s opening ceremonies, as Colombia opens competition on Wednesday, July 25, against Korea at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland. The games officially run July 27 – August 12.
As a senior at Lynn in the fall of 2011, Ortiz was named the SSC Co-Player of the Year, as well as the league’s Offensive Player of the Year. She notched 24 points in her final collegiate season and helped her Fighting Knight squad make a run all the way to the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time since 1998. She concluded a decorated college career with more than 100 points accumulated on the pitch.
Ortiz is the first person in Lynn history to participate in the Olympic Games. While she may be a rookie on the Olympic stage, Ortiz has been on the radar of the Colombian National Team since 2009. In 2010, she spent a summer with the Under-20 squad, making the final cut for that World Cup team. In 2011, she was evaluated with the full national team that prepared for the FIFA World Cup but fell just shy of the final roster. Her first international goal came against host country Germany in the Under-20 FIFA World Cup.
Ortiz recently sat down with the Fighting Knights Network to talk about her excitement for the upcoming games and her journey toward making the final Olympic roster. To see that interview, click here.
A sophomore at Nova Southeastern, Simpson will carry the entire swimming hopes of the tiny island nation of Grenada on his shoulders. Occupying 133 square miles in the Caribbean Sea, Grenada boasts a population of just over 100,000. A sprinter, Simpson will compete in the 100-meter freestyle, with opening heats set to begin on Tuesday, July 31.
Simpson also competed in the sprint events at the 2012 SSC Swimming Championships. He finished fourth in the men’s 50-yard freestyle with a time of 20.85. He placed eighth in the 100 freestyle with a mark of 46.75.
At the NCAA Division II Swimming and Diving Championships, Simpson swam on the Sharks’ 400-yard freestyle relay team that earned All-America honors with an eighth-place finish.
Simpson has been training at NSU under the guidance of his collegiate coach, Hollie Bonewit-Cron, who will accompany him to London. His goal is to swim a personal-best time at the games.
An NBC affiliate in Miami recently did a segment on Simpson’s Olympic preparations. To view that story, click here.
A native of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Gutierrez is believed to be the first Florida Southern student-athlete to compete in the Olympics. He will swim in the 400-meter freestyle for his native country. Competition in the event is scheduled for Saturday, July 28.
In his collegiate debut season, Gutierrez set FSC school records in the 500 (4:32.12) and 1,000-yard (9:35.34) freestyle events.
He earned three All-American accolades at the NCAA Division II Swimming and Diving Championships. Gutierrez was a member of the Moccasins’ national champion 800-yard freestyle relay team that won in an NCAA-record time of 6:27.73. He also swam on the 400 freestyle relay team that placed third in an FSC-record time of 2:58.13.
Competing in his first SSC Championship, Gutierrez placed fourth in both the 200 and 500-yard freestyle races.
Springer will compete in the 2012 Paralympic Games Aug. 29 – Sept. 9 in London. He previously won a gold medal with the wheelchair rugby team at the 2008 Olympic Games in Bejing, China.
A native of New York, N.Y., Springer’s legs had to be amputated above the knees and his arms below the elbows after he contracted a rare form of meningitis while hiking the Appalachian Trail as a 14-year-old in 1999. Springer told his story in a video for the National Meningitis Association, which can be viewed here.
Prior to contracting the illness, Springer was an avid hockey player. After his amputations, he began playing sled hockey, at which he excelled. In 2002, his sled hockey mentor suggested that he try wheelchair rugby. Within three years of trying the sport, he was a member of the U.S. National Team. He has established himself as a top defender on the squad.
Qualifying rounds for wheelchair rugby will begin Wednesday, Sept. 5.