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Team USA Goes Back to School

By Paul D. Bowker | Sept. 06, 2012, 2 p.m. (ET)
Ariel Hsing
Ariel Hsing competes during the women's team table tennis first round match against Japan at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Missy Franklin 
Missy Franklin and her Regis Jesuit High School classmates watch
 warmups as they attend a MLS match between the Portland
 Timbers and Colorado Rapids on Sept. 5, 2012

The students at Valley Christian High School in San Jose, Calif., drummed up enough interest to start up a table tennis club this year.

The club’s first president? That was a pretty easy decision.

It will be 2012 Olympian Ariel Hsing, a senior at Valley Christian. Her first day of classes was Aug. 16, which was just four days after she participated in the Closing Ceremony at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

“Some kids in my class, they thought it was just so cool that I went to the Olympics this summer,” Hsing, one of three 16-year-olds on the U.S. Olympic women’s table tennis team, told TeamUSA.org. “They started a table tennis club, so they made me president of it.”

More than 1,800 miles away from San Jose, in an elementary school classroom in the southwest Houston suburb of Missouri City, Texas, two-time Olympian Diana Lopez found herself facing a room full of first graders in her student-teaching assignment.

“Just being in the classroom full of 21 6- to 7-year-olds is funny to me,” said Lopez, a taekwondo Olympian who earned a bronze medal at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and also competed at the London 2012 Olympic Games, just missing a podium finish. “A couple of weeks before, I was at the Olympics and now I am in an elementary school.”

Lopez and Hsing are among a group of 2012 Olympians who will have pretty good “What-I-did-this-summer stories” when they return to the classroom this fall.

They range from high school students such as Hsing and swimming star Missy Franklin, a student at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo., to Lopez, who is on track to finish up her bachelor’s degree in childhood education at the University of Houston in December, and women’s freestyle wrestler Elena Pirozhkova, who is finishing up an associate degree at Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado with classes in anatomy and chemistry.

Lopez, who comes from a family that includes four-time Olympian Steven Lopez and 2008 Olympian Mark Lopez, says she involves pieces of her sport in her teaching.

“I definitely bring the tenants of taekwondo into the classroom: courtesy, integrity, self control, indomitable spirit and perseverance,” she said. “I will bring my Olympic bronze (medal) from Beijing as a treat for the kids and share my experiences. Being at the Olympics and being in a classroom of students are very cool experiences.”

Lopez also has taught fourth grade and kindergarten as a part of her student-teaching program at the University of Houston.

“It’s really fun going into a first-grade class every day,” she said. “The kids make me laugh and smile by the comments they make throughout the day, and I love the fact that I get to help any way possible.”

Hsing’s school routine in San Jose is certainly challenging. A straight-A student at Valley Christian (Ariel and her parents have an agreement that she can keep playing table tennis competitively as long as she maintains an A average), Hsing’s academic load this fall includes Advanced Placement (AP) courses in calculus, economics and English literature and composition. She is studying and preparing to take college-board ACT tests.

And there is an upcoming trip to China in late September for a World Cup table tennis tournament.

“My last year of high school, I just hope that I finish really well, finish strong,” she said. “I definitely want to keep training. I hope to get straight A’s again, of course.

“As a senior, it’s very exciting because you’re so close to graduating.”

Hsing, who has played table tennis with Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, is considering a list of schools that includes Stanford University and Princeton University. However, she still may delay college work because of her busy table tennis schedule and her desire to medal at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.

“I’ve been thinking, and I really do want to continue to play table tennis,” Hsing said. “My goal is now the 2016 Olympics. I’ve been thinking that maybe I want to take a year off after high school, maybe even a year off during college.”

Hsing’s U.S. Olympic women’s table tennis teammates in London, Erica Wu and Lily Zhang, are also both in high school. Zhang is a junior at Palo Alto (Calif.) High School. Wu is a junior at Westridge School in Pasadena, Calif.

Franklin, 17, a four-time gold medalist in London who swims for her high school team, has been incredibly busy thanks to her Olympic fame. Sunday, she will be honored during the Denver Broncos’ NFL opener. Friday, she’ll help out answering telephones for the third annual Stand Up to Cancer telethon. Olympic champion gymnast Gabby Douglas is also helping out.

Franklin’s Olympic teammate, 15-year-old gold medalist Katie Ledecky, is back at school at Stone Ridge School of Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Md., where a school assembly welcomed her home. “I think everyone knows that I want to return to a normal life and I want it to be normal for them (her classmates), too,” Ledecky, a sophomore, told The Washington Post.

Other Olympians returning to college this fall include diver David Boudia at Purdue University, swimmer Allison Schmitt at the University of Georgia, gymnast Sam Mikulak at the University of Michigan, and sister field hockey players Julia and Katie Reinprecht, and Michelle Cesan at Princeton, which is ranked No. 4 in the nation. Gold medalist swimmer Rachel Bootsma is a freshman at the University of California.

“It’s kind of weird,” Boudia, a fifth-year senior, told TeamUSA.org. “Two weeks ago I was in London and now I’m back, a normal kid, normal classes. I kind of like it. A lot.”

Schmitt is hitting the books and the pool in Georgia.

“I’m honored to come back to Georgia for my last year swimming with a ‘G’ on my cap,” Schmitt told the Associated Press. “I’m excited to get back in the water for this team.”

On Oct. 29 in Charlottesville, Va., five 2012 Olympians will play in a college field hockey game when Princeton’s Cesan and the Reinprecht sisters face the University of Virginia’s Michelle Vittese and Paige Selenski.

Mikulak, a junior at Michigan, is expected to compete for the Wolverines after recovering from ankle surgery. He placed fifth in the men’s vault at the 2012 Games.

Carrie Johnson, a three-time Olympian in women’s kayak, is going back to school as a veterinary student at the University of California-Davis. She received her initial degree in biochemistry from UC-San Diego in 2009.

And perhaps the best-known women’s ice hockey player in U.S. history, four-time Olympic medalist Angela Ruggiero is going to Harvard Business School. Ruggiero won three world championships with the United States and in 2010 was appointed to the U.S. Olympic Board of Directors and also the International Olympic Committee Athlete’s Commission. Although she spent her career as a winter sports athlete, she was in London this summer working with the IOC. In 2013, she will become president-elect of the Women’s Sports Foundation. She is a 2004 graduate of Harvard University.

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Paul D. Bowker is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies. TeamUSA.org writer Doug Williams contributed to this report.

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