Hehn one of four U athletes competing at World Games

Brett Angel

For Keri Hehn, every lap in the pool, every rep in the weight room and every ounce of energy she’s ever devoted to the sport of swimming paid off in one special moment earlier this summer.

It was the day a box sent care of the U.S. national team arrived at her door. Among other things inside were six swimsuits, two tank tops, two pairs of shorts, a warm-up suit, a travel bag and various T-shirts in three distinct colors – red, white and blue.

“This box was huge. I was so excited,” Hehn said. “It was like Christmas in July.”

Hehn, who completed her senior season at Minnesota in March as a two-time All-American in the 200-yard breaststroke, is one of four University athletes competing at the World University Games, which begin Thursday in Daegu, South Korea.

“It’s the most important meet of the summer,” said Minnesota men’s swimming and diving coach Dennis Dale.

Hehn will compete in the 50-, 100- and 200-meter breaststroke. Other Gophers making the trip halfway around the globe to South Korea include:

* Nine-time All-American Justin Mortimer, competing in the 400- and 800-meter freestyle events.

* Junior Diego Urreta, competing in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke, as well as the 200- and 400-meter individual medley.

* Senior diver Rebecca Cornthwaite, participating in the platform competition and possibly the three-meter springboard.

Mortimer and Hehn will swim for the United States, while Urreta is competing for Mexico and Cornthwaite for Australia.

Both Dale and Minnesota women’s swimming and diving coach Jean Freeman will also make the trip as assistant coaches.

Though her collegiate career officially ended at the NCAA championships in March, Hehn rededicated herself to training soon afterward.

“I took two weeks off and got right back in the water,” Hehn said. “It’s been my goal (to make a U.S. national team) since I started swimming. I’m still in shock.”

Hehn, who transferred to Minnesota in 2001 after Nebraska cut its swimming and diving program, has been practicing in the University Aquatic Center six days a week since April, including twice-a-day workouts Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The hard work has paid off. She has already recorded career bests in both the 100 (1:11.29) and 200 breaststroke (2:32.10) during national competition so far this summer.

Now, the wait is almost over for Hehn, who qualified for the World University Games more than a year ago.

She can’t wait to take the tags off her new suit, zip on her new warm-ups and fulfill the lifelong dream of representing her country on a global stage.

“Anytime an athlete gets to compete internationally it makes them better,” Dale said. “That’s just a real neat experience. It makes you feel like you’ve reached a new level.”

Hehn has also heard rumors that after international competitions, athletes honor a tradition of exchanging their national equipment with each other.

If that’s the case, she will have plenty to trade.

Brett Angel welcomes comments at [email protected]