The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 21, 2012

Rueda: When a moment becomes a memory

By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor

— After 30-plus years in the sports writing business, events have a tendency to blend together.

There are, however, those moments that stick out. Some big games, some quirky interview subjects, a few landscape-changing events are not soon forgotten.

On Saturday, I was privy to one of those memorable moments I’m sure will rattle around in my brain for quite awhile.

It occurred during the state swim meet when Mankato West junior Danielle Nack took her place on the gold-medal podium at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.

A couple of minutes earlier, Nack had won the state championship in the 100-yard butterfly in 52.41 seconds. The time was not only good enough for first place in the Class A meet, it was the best time ever turned in by a high school athlete in the history of Minnesota girls swimming.

When the announcer explained the accomplishment to the near-packed house of fans, something wonderfully spontaneous happened. As the approval of the crowd grew louder and louder, a few of them began to stand, then a few more stood up, and eventually the entire arena was on its feet.

It was one of those instances where the hair literally stands up on the back of your neck. As I listened to the roar of the crowd and the clapping hands I tried to intentionally burn the scene into my memory. Those moments don’t come around often and I wanted to savor every drop of it.

I looked at Danielle and saw a smiling, blushing high school junior who was taken aback by the moment even more than I was. A standing ovation was not what she expected and she admitted as much in an interview later.

Perhaps what made the moment so special was the kind of person Danielle has become. Some people with extraordinary athletic talent have a tendency to get puffed up. They start to think a lot of themselves, they start to believe they are more special than everyone else.

Based on her long list of accomplishments, including an appearance at the U.S. Olympic Trials this past summer, Danielle could hardly be faulted if she fell into that trap, but she hasn’t. She, and her younger sister Chantal, who is also a state champion swimmer, are two of the most grounded people you’ll ever meet.

It’s obviously a testament to their upbringing and a testament to their character. When good things happen to good people, you can’t help but be appreciative.

As unexpected as it was, Danielle deserved every bit of that standing ovation.

And I’m glad I was there to experience it. I know it will stay with me for a long time.

Jim Rueda is the Free Press sports editor. To contact him, call 344-6381 or e-mail him at