By Olivia Koester
The sky is the limit for first-graders as they dream of becoming astronauts, firefighters and more.
At Dayton Elementary School in the late 1970s, one of Barb Swanson’s first-grade students told her that she wanted to become an Olympian someday.
On Aug. 14, that student pulled an Olympic gold medal out of her backpack and told a room full of Anoka-Hennepin District 11 administrators and a now-retired Swanson, “Ms. Swanson helped me win this.”
Briana Scurry, a decorated United States soccer player, now retired, came back to her home district to address administrators before the start of the school year.
A 1990 Anoka High School graduate, Scurry played goalie for the Tornadoes and helped lead them to a state championship in 1989.
She went on to play soccer for the University of Massachusetts Amherst before playing professionally, winning Olympic gold medals in 1996 and 2004 and a World Cup title in 1999.
“Every single day, you’re making a difference to someone,” Scurry told administrators. “Ms. Swanson made a difference for me, and she didn’t even know that until the other day.”
Several days before speaking at the administrators workshop, when asked to select someone to introduce her, Scurry immediately thought of Swanson.
There could have been a hang-up: Scurry didn’t know Swanson’s first name. Most first-grade students don’t know teachers have first names, she explained.
Though she retired in 2010, Swanson continues to substitute teach in the district, so the district was able to track her down, and a surprised Swanson agreed to introduce her former student.
“She had a quiet confidence and an athletic ability that was very obvious,” Swanson said, describing a 6-year-old Scurry before welcoming her back to Anoka-Hennepin with a couple of bear hugs.
“I wasn’t expecting to feel like I feel right now, a little emotional,” Scurry told those assembled Aug. 14.
Scurry addressed the administrators, urging them to always bear in mind their influence on kids.
When first-graders say they want to be astronauts, firefighters, even Olympians, “it could possibly happen,” Scurry said, offering herself as proof.
“Throughout all my childhood, my parents never once thought I was crazy,” she said. Without their belief in her Olympic dreams and their encouragement, as well as the support of her teachers, she isn’t sure she would have made the U.S. Women’s National Team, she said.
With many career highlights, the most rewarding moments haven’t been winning gold; the greatest gift for Scurry has been inspiring people, young soccer players, by living out her passion, she said.
Administrators and teachers have the ability to do that every day, she said. “You’re molding and shaping the minds of America’s youth.”
There are always obstacles to overcome, Scurry said.
“Success doesn’t happen in a straight line,” and you have to persevere, she said, describing her journey to gold in 2004, an uphill battle in a time of grief, a couple of weeks after her father’s death.
Scurry urged administrators to consciously strive to inspire students, to offer that word of encouragement.
After she concluded her address, junior and senior members of the Anoka High School soccer program presented her with a signed soccer ball.
“Bri, welcome back home,” Superintendent David Law said as administrators rose and applauded and Scurry wiped away tears.
Director of Student Services Linda Anderson told Scurry she watched her play soccer at AHS. “You have been truly an inspiration today,” Anderson said. In the second half of her career, “I wish I could do it all over again and touch some more lives.”
Contact Olivia Koester at [email protected]