Collegiate sports aren’t a big thing in Australia, so when Michelle Troup had the chance to cross the Pacific and swim for a program coached by native Aussie Bobby Folan, she took her cap and goggles international.
Five years later, she’s trading the swim cap for a cap and gown as the featured undergraduate speaker for the Winter 2016 commencement.
The finance major went to high school in both Australia and New Zealand and did a year of university Down Under, but school in America turned out to be a different beast.
“The only thing I knew about American college was from the movies,” she said. “And even when you watch the movies they're not normally of college, they're normally of high schools. I knew that there was going to be Greek life, which we don't have back home. I knew about the football stuff. I don't understand it. I know there's something called a third down. I know it's called a touchdown not a try.”
Which is fair. You try getting plunked down in the middle of an Aussie rules football game and see how well you pick it up.
At UNLV, Troup became the captain of the swim team and was the 2016 Mountain West champion in 100-meter freestyle. The demands of being a competitive athlete and a student are well-documented, but for Troup, the structure it brought to her life was welcome.
But more than that, swimming gave Troup a built-in community in a way that wouldn’t have happened if she stayed in Australia.
“I had 50 automatic friends,” she said. “Back home, a team is a different version of what a team is here. Back home you show up to practice and then you leave, and you're automatically a team. Here you work at it. You do things out of the pool together; you do things in the pool together. It's more like team and team/family. Here you do everything with your sports team.”
Troup took her spot as captain the beginning of her junior year, and got an important lesson in leadership: That managing personalities is an even bigger part of it than shaping strategy and tactics.
Coaches would have problems with swimmers. Swimmers would have problems with coaches. Or other swimmers. But smoothing conflict over was part of the job. Just like volunteering was, where Troup put in time with the Salvation Army, Three Square, and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
After graduation wraps up, Troup plans to return to Australia to apply for graduate programs. If the opportunity presents itself, a return trip to the United States to work isn’t out of the question.
First, though, she has to deliver her speech at the Thomas & Mack Center. Her parents, grandparents, and sister are coming over for graduation but they don’t know yet that Troup is one of the speakers.
“I haven't told them,” she said. “I'm trying to keep it a secret, so maybe they'll be surprised. Or they won't notice. I sent my mum a video of me the other day, she was like ‘Who was that?’ ‘It's me.’ So maybe they won't notice.”