Longhorn Hall of Honor: Laura Wilkinson
Nov. 17, 2009
The experts gave Laura Wilkinson absolutely no chance, and, really, why would they? She started the finals of the 2000 Olympics platform diving competition in eighth place, and with a broken foot.
But apparently none of them had ever watched Wilkinson dive for the Texas Longhorns, when she won two NCAA platform titles in three seasons, with a competitive edge that was revealed only through the sweet smile that was always on her face.
True to her character, Wilkinson pulled off the impossible, and won the gold medal in the 2000 Olympics. Prior to competition, Wilkinson broke her foot in three places, and it partially healed. But one chunk of the bone floated to the bottom of her foot.
"It felt like I was walking on a rock everywhere," Wilkinson recalled. "Breaking my foot was such a blessing, though. The Olympics was the goal -- that's where I wanted to go and win a gold medal. But it became like a picture I had been staring at for a really long time. It got fuzzy.
"When I broke my foot, it was like windshield wipers and my vision became very clear again."
Wilkinson also claimed gold medals on the platform at the 2004 FINA World Cup and 2005 FINA World Championships to become the only woman to win platform titles at each of the three major world championships.
Luckily for the Longhorns, Wilkinson's worldwide supremacy was cultivated right here in her native Texas.
"As soon as I made my first trip to campus, I knew I was going to UT," Wilkinson said. "I fell in love with it the first day."
She didn't waste time in becoming one of the most revered divers in Texas history, winning the NCAA platform championship as a freshman in 1997. Wilkinson bookended her career with another platform title as a junior in 1999 before turning professional.
"I very much cherish my two NCAA titles. I'm very proud of that fact, I think because I just loved being a Longhorn," Wilkinson said. "There's a pride there, and you never lose it. I still bleed burnt orange."
Wilkinson's professional career achievements are astounding. She competed in three Olympiads, won a total of 19 U.S. National Championships and was a 14-time member of the U.S. National team. And after placing ninth on the platform at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Wilkinson retired as one of the most decorated athletes in the sport's history.
But Wilkinson credits much of that success to her experiences with the Longhorns. Because of a year-round meet schedule, Wilkinson matured on the platform while representing burnt orange.
"The amount of competitions we have in college is astronomical. It's a pretty hefty season, and pretty tiring. But I tell you what, it gives you so many opportunities to try different things and figure things out," Wilkinson said. "I stepped out of the box, and tried different things at different meets. That's when I really learned how to compete.
"The experience that I gained in competition at The University of Texas really made a difference afterward, because I was more confident, and I knew how to handle unexpected challenges."
Wilkinson now serves the sport she once conquered through the non-profit Laura Wilkinson Foundation, established, in part, to help the United States reemerge as the world leader in diving.
After receiving her bachelor's degree in public relations in December 2001, Wilkinson works as a diving commentator for Universal Sports and also presents her inspirational message to corporate and faith-based organizations throughout the nation.
Wilkinson lives in The Woodlands, Texas with her husband, Eriek Hulseman, a former University of Minnesota swimmer.
"I went through so many things in college, and that time shaped who I was as an athlete and as a person," Wilkinson said. "Even though I left my scholarship to make the Olympic team, I did go back and finish my degree because it was so important to me, and that school was so important to me.
"It's a great honor for me to be part of the UT Hall of Honor."