Three Eagle athletes to be inducted into AU Athletics’ Hall of Fame

Keira Carlstrom D'Amato, Fred Hviid and Samia Akbar will be recognized as the Class of 2017 inductees for the Stafford H. Cassell Hall of Fame

Three Eagle athletes to be inducted into AU Athletics’ Hall of Fame

Keira Carlstrom D'Amato stood at home plate on a baseball field in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, preparing to defend her Patriot League cross country title in 2004. The field, she thought, was a strange place to warm-up for the 6k race that awaited her, but she followed her coach’s instructions anyway.

“Swing to the fences,” head coach Matt Centrowitz told her, “and hit your homerun.”

Centrowitz threw her an imaginary baseball, she swung, and then ran a victory lap around the field.

“I thought, ‘this is so silly,’” D’Amato, ‘06, said, reflecting on the experience, “but he was cheering for me.”

The unconventional warm up and symbolic victory lap around the baseball field proved beneficial for Carlstrom D’Amato, as she successfully won the conference race for the second year in a row. The memory of that race, and that morning in Pennsylvania, is just one of many memories that Carlstrom D’Amato has competing as a four-year member of the AU cross country and track teams.

On February 4, she will add another AU experience to her memory. Carlstrom D’Amato, her teammate 2004 graduate Samia Akbar and 1994 graduate swimmer Fred Hviid will be the next three inductees into the Stafford H. Cassell Hall of Fame. They join a distinguished group that also includes former AU men’s basketball coaches Gary Williams and Ed Tapscott, along with standout athletes including basketball players Kermit Washington, ‘73, and soccer player David Nakhid, ‘87.

“I think adding [Hall of Fame] is the icing on the cake,” Hviid said. “It brings my personal legacy full circle in a sense. Records are meant to be broken and the fact that some are still standing is a testament to my hard work two decades ago, but Hall of Fame brings a status unique to very few.”

Hviid in the Hall of Fame

Hviid’s AU swimming career started under the guidance of coaches Joseph Nagy and Doug Backlund, a duo that produced nearly half a dozen Olympians. The coaching staff and training group at AU helped Hviid develop into an eight-time conference champion and Olympic competitor in 1996 and 2000.

“He was an incredibly hard worker,” then-AU head coach Doug Backlund said. “I can picture one practice where they were doing 400 IM repeats in practice, he was killing himself. I remember him just laying on the deck, breathing, and you can tell he put everything he had into it. It was awesome to see.”

Backlund said that Nagy played a large role in recruiting Hviid and training him with the other AU Olympians, including Chris Hauth, ‘93, and Sergio Lopez, ‘92. During his freshman year, Hviid teamed up with Hauth, who went on to represent Germany in the 1996 Olympics, and two other athletes to capture a conference championship in the men’s 800 freestyle relay, one of Hviid greatest memories at AU.

He also earned conference swimmer of the meet honors in both 1993 and 1994. After graduation from AU, Hviid competed in the Olympics himself, representing Spain in the 1996 and 2000 Summer Games. Hviid still holds records at AU in the 1,000 and 1,650 freestyle as well as the 400 Individual Medley.

While Hviid said he values the opportunity to compete at AU, his academic career also stands out to him when he reflects on his time at AU.

“The experience was great, but most importantly, while I was able to pursue my ambitions to be a great swimmer, I got the education I so desired,” Hviid said. “The whole reason for sacrificing so much to come to the U.S. from Spain was to get a solid, competitive education.”

Running into the record books

D'Amato, like Hviid, boasts an impressive athletic resume, but her academic achievements and her work in the classroom also helped her stand out from her peers during her time at AU. She earned six Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the Year Awards and a CoSIDA Academic All-American distinction during her career, in addition to her four All-American honors and 11-time Patriot League individual championships.

“I think the biggest thing is just getting through the grind, running and school go and in hand in that the more you put in it, the more you get out of it,” Carlstrom D’Amato said, reflecting on her career. “You gotta put it in to get the results out.”

Carlstrom D'Amato said that while running can be a “grind,” competing with teammates like fellow Hall of Fame inductee Samia Akbar made the experience “a special time in [her] life.”

“She was a senior when I was a freshman, we went to the same high [school], we both ran for D.C. Elite [running team] after college,” Carlstrom D'Amato said in regards to her teammate. “She first started as an inspiration, a role model and my closest friend. It’s something so special to the both of us.”

Akbar and Carlstrom D'Amato both earned All-American status in 2003, Akbar in track and Carlstrom D'Amato in cross country. The two runners pushed each other, Carlstrom D'Amato said, and she feels honored to be inducted to the Hall of Fame at the same time as her accomplished training partner.

Akbar’s accomplishments, like her teammates, span her entire college career and beyond, and she earned six conference titles and set twelve school records before finishing 3rd at U.S. Nationals in 2006 as a post grad. Carlstrom D'Amato and Hviid both said they look forward to reconnecting with old teammates, friends and coaches at the induction ceremony in February.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Carlstrom D’Amato said.

Over a decade has passed since Carlstrom D’Amato hit her imaginary home run at that baseball field in Lewisburg, Penn., but the memory still remains strong, and she knows that the current varsity team of runners competing under the careful coaching of Matt Centrowitz will have their own memories and stories to share at the end of their careers as well.

“I feel like every day was a story with him,” Carlstrom D’Amato said.

But her personal AU athletic story, one that was marked by individual conference titles and league academic recognition, will have a special epilogue in February, as she stands with her coach to have her name forever etched into the history of the institution that helped her shape her athletic career.

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