AU Hall of Fame induction highlights three storied athletic careers
Inductees share memories of their AU student-athlete experience during 2017 recognition dinner
Samia Akbar graduated from AU in 2003, seven years before the School of International Service building became the modern AU landmark that it is today. Yet, standing in the new, renovated building during the cocktail hour of the 2017 AU Athletics Hall of Fame dinner on Saturday, Akbar said the memories of her time on campus as both a student and a runner came rushing back to her.
“I’ve always loved running, but it was solidified here, and I felt courageous enough and that it would be worth it to… really, really endeavor to be involved with running for the rest of my life,” Akbar said. “That to me is just the biggest piece of what American really meant for me and did for me as a person.”
As a cross country and track athlete at AU, Akbar won six conference titles, broke ten school records and earned “Outstanding Runner” honors at the 2002 Patriot League Cross Country Championships. She, along with her teammates and her coach Matt Centrowitz, helped build the AU running program into a conference powerhouse. Akbar said that the chemistry created among that group of runners gave her the energy and motivation to continue to run professionally after college.
“The men's team and the women’s team practiced together and inspired each other at all of our races,” Akbar said. “We didn’t have a huge team, but by the time I left AU and went to run for Reebok, it was because I wasn’t burnt out. I still had this amazing, amazing, excitement about my running career, and that all really, really formed here.”
But Akbar’s story at AU isn’t just about her own achievements on the track or even in the classroom. She helped inspire her teammates, her friends and her classmates to chase their own dreams, and one of those friendship came full circle on Saturday night. Akbar shared her induction into the AU Hall of Fame with Keira Carlstrom D’Amato, a runner who graduated three years after Akbar but viewed her older teammate as a role model, mentor and sister.
“I can’t express the level of joy that Keira and I are being inducted at the same time because she has meant so much to me, she’s my sister, and so we’ve shared a lot of years together,” Akbar said. “I’m meeting her smallest daughter for the first time [tonight], so it’s just unbelievable.”
Athena Argyropoulos, the senior associate athletic director at AU and a member of the Hall of Fame selection committee, said she and the Hall of Fame voters recognized the special relationship between Carlstrom D’Amato and Akbar and capitalized on the opportunity to induct them together in the Class of 2017.
“As a committee, we thought that they both got in on their own merits, but the opportunity to put them in together, is something very, very special for our department, our university, those two young women and own program,” Argyropoulos said. “It sets a standard, and that’s what they did, they set a standard, they established our women’s side of the program and said ‘we’re a force to be reckoned with.’”
The third inductee, Frederik Hviid, also set a standard at AU, and his standard still remains in place today. A 1996 and 2000 Olympian for Spain, Hviid earned two “Conference Swimmer of the Year” awards as a member of the Colonial Athletic Conference, and he also qualified for All-American Honors twice during his career. Hviid’s name still stands on the AU record books in the men’s 1000 and 1650 freestyle, as well as the 400 individual medley.
“It’s a great experience,” Hviid said. “It’s like 20 years ago, so it’s so far and so long gone to be remembered and recognized now, it’s special and I do enjoy it and I do appreciate it.”
During the dinner portion of the event, each of the honorees had the opportunity to say a few words about their AU experience during the inductee dinner, and Hviid managed to make the crowd laugh, telling stories about his adventures in the city and his experience as an international swimmer.
During his student-athlete career, Hviid worked several internships where he learned graphic design skills that he now incorporates into his own company, New Wave Media. Hviid has also stayed involved in his sport beyond graduation, something he shares in common with both of the other inductees. Akbar now works for New Balance in the marketing department and Carlstrom D’Amato works at a running store and runs her own small running gift company.
“I think the whole reason [for] coming to the U.S. and coming to AU was so I could do both, academics and athletics,” Hviid said. “I think the benefit of it was everything is centralized and localized, and in Europe, you don’t have the infrastructure that you have in the U.S., so that’s a great advantage that you have here, is that you are able to do both and you are able to do both things successfully, and there are the resources for it.”
Hviid recently won two gold medals at the Masters World Championships and set a record in the men’s 200 backstroke, and he also coaches high school students at a local club team in D.C. He continues to emphasise the value of his classes and his academic experience at AU when talking about his memories at the school.
Academics are not always a priority when inducting new members into the Hall of Fame, Argyropoulos said, but the achievements of this year’s class certainly made them stand out to the committee.
“When you look at what they did as student-athletes, you can’t overlook everything and not put them in the Hall of Fame, they belong in the Hall of Fame,” Argyropoulos said.
Also in attendance at the Hall of Fame celebration were Jennifer Heppel, the commissioner of the Patriot League, University President Neil Kerwin and his wife Ann Kerwin, Vice President of Student Life Gail Hanson, Board of Trustees Director Jack Cassell, as well as various alumni, coaches and nearly a dozen current Hall of Fame members.
Athletic Director Dr. Billy Walker made a special note to recognize Dr. Kerwin and Dr. Hanson for their continued support of athletics. Both Dr. Kerwin and Dr. Hanson will retire before the next athletic year, but Walker noted that he hopes to see the same level of encouragement from the next administration. Next year’s Hall of Fame class will be inducted under AU’s new president, Sylvia Burwell, a high school basketball player and Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University.
Just a few hours after the conclusion of the dinner, the SIS building transformed from a reception and dining area back into a classroom. The ceremony came to a close and the guests went home, but the accomplishments and legacies of the three inductees will always be remembered at AU, as their photos will hang outside Bender Arena forever.
“It all just seems very surreal,” Carlstrom D’Amato said. “Seeing the committee there and previous and current members of the Hall of Fame, and that’s when it hit me, just the greatness of this award. I mean, I knew the greatness of it beforehand, but it really became emotional for me then. It just feels surreal, and I’m humbled still by all of this.”