Just Add Water...
April 14, 2014
Written by Madeline Rosenthal
Around Troy, senior Kaleigh Gilchrist has earned her reputation as a dominant force on one of USC's most successful squads: the defending national champion women's water polo team. A co-captain, All-American and NCAA All-Tournament Team selection for two years in a row, Gilchrist is a leader for the Women of Troy as they seek to defend their national title when USC hosts the NCAA Tournament at the newly opened Uytengsu Aquatics Center May 9-11. Even though Gilchrist's accomplishments throughout her time as a member of the women's water polo team are enough to make any athlete tip their hat with awe, her achievements do not stop there. Kaleigh Gilchrist is nearly as decorated -- if not, more -- in a different aquatic arena: surfing.
Just as she continues to dominate the collegiate water polo arena, Kaleigh has had her fair share of success in surfing, both nationally and internationally. In 2009 and 2010, Gilchrist was crowned the back-to-back 18-and-under USA Women's Surfing Champion, which just so happens to be the most prestigious amateur surfing award. Also in 2010, she won the National Scholastic Surfing Association's (NSSA) national high school surfing championship. More recently, she placed fourth at the 2012 Association of Surfing Professional (ASP) Pro Junior US Open. And in 2013, just weeks after winning the NCAA championship for water polo, she was crowned the NSSA women's college national champion.
Her stellar performances led her to be selected to compete for Team USA at several International Surfing Association competitions around the world. A member of the USA Surf Team from 2006-2011, she has competed at five different World Championship competitions, traveling to countries such as Portugal, France, Ecuador, New Zealand and Panama in the process. In 2011, her first year competing in the open age bracket, Kaleigh finished at an impressive ninth place at the ISA World Championship Competition.
Her successes with surfing are beyond commendable, but what is perhaps more praiseworthy than her successes and her ability to balance two sports is her commitment to her education. Currently, not one person on either the men's or women's professional circuit has a degree. If Kaleigh goes on to compete as a pro after graduating in May, she will be the only surfer with a collegiate diploma.
"The status quo is for surfers is to go straight to the pro circuit right after high school," Kaleigh said. "Some even do home schooling to get there sooner. But for me college was always the next step. My dad went to college and was an athlete. I always knew a college education was what I wanted."
Perhaps having a father like hers was more influential in shaping her career than just being a role model as a collegiate athlete. Her dad, Sandy Gilchrist, was a Trojan swimmer, competing for USC from 1963-67. He also competed for Canada at the 1964 and 1968 Olympic Games. Aquatic excellence runs in her veins.
Going on to compete for Team USA seems to be what's in the future for all-star athlete Kaleigh Gilchrist, but the question is, in what sport?
In addition to USA Surfing, she received some attention from the USA Water Polo National Team this past year. She was invited into the training circuit with the senior national team in the summer of 2013 and went on to compete in two competitions for team USA: the Canada Cup and the Holiday Cup. But on the other hand, the ASP pro surfing circuit calls as well. However, ask Kaleigh what she sees in her future and she'll talk about her current number one goal: defending her NCAA championship with the USC water polo team next month.
"Winning another national championship is by far the most important thing for me and for my teammates," Kaleigh said. "Winning last year just made me want it even more this year, and the opportunity to play for a second ring in the pool where I've spent the past four years of my life training is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Currently ranked No. 3 in the nation, Kaleigh and her fellow Trojans have a lot to focus on between now and May 9 in order to make that dream a reality.