Six weeks ago, Abby Johnston and Nick McCrory starred on the world stage and won the United States’ first diving medals in 12 years at the Olympic Games. Now they are happy to just be Duke students again.
The pair returned to Duke for the Fall semester with Olympic medals in hand after Johnston won the silver and McCrory won the bronze in the 3-meter synchronized springboard and the 10-meter synchronized platform competitions, respectively. Neither Johnston nor McCrory took classes at Duke last Spring as they trained for the Games. In addition, McCrory took the Fall semester off while Johnston took a reduced courseload.
“It feels amazing to be back. I feel like everything is like new again,” McCrory said. “It’s fun and exciting and being back on campus it feels great walking to classes and doing all the normal stuff that I used to do for two years.”
Johnston and McCrory both said they were surprised at the ease of their transitions back to academic life. After extended hiatuses from the classroom, the pair is now staying away from the diving well for the first month of classes as they concentrate on their academics—taking a rigorous courseload this Fall to make up for lost time.
For Johnston, that courseload includes classes in physics, biochemistry and two psychology classes, one of which is graduate level.
“It’s a pretty heavy schedule, but I’ve put off a lot of classes in past years so I could focus on training and traveling,” she said. “Right now my main focus is academics and I’ll get back into diving later in the semester.”
Both said their teachers have congratulated them on their Olympic performances, but neither expects their medals to earn them any free passes as they transition back to academia.
“Even though I have a medal, it’s not going to get me an ‘A’ on my test,” Johnston said.
Although nothing can compare to Olympic triumph, McCrory’s bronze on the platform and Johnston’s silver on the springboard did not come without considerable sacrifice. Because they took time away from Duke, Johnston and McCrory will graduate a year later than expected, in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Johnston felt the most immediate impact of this change—by the time she returned to Duke, all of her former classmates had graduated last May.
“It’s definitely tough, first of all to take five years to graduate, but freshman year I came in thinking that I would get to graduate with my friends,” Johnston said. “So I felt somewhat left out when they all graduated, but I was also really distracted at the time by everything that was going on in my life.”
Johnston and McCrory’s former classmates may have moved on to different phases in their lives, but the duo said they have felt a warm reception from the Duke community since their return to school. They often struggle to blend in, having interactions with peers and fans on a daily basis. Most of the time these meetings come in the form of an autograph or photo, but sometimes the requests can be a bit more outlandish.
Johnston said her strangest interaction with a stranger was when a student asked her to sign his DukeCard. McCrory’s most memorable interaction had more permanent implications.
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“When we were at the Durham Bulls game there was this girl about 25 or 26-years old. We were doing an autograph signing and the paper she gave me said, ‘I, blank, agree to marry this person’ and it just had a line there for me to sign and I thought that was really funny,” McCrory said.
According to McCrory it was the first marriage proposal he had ever received.
As the semester wears on, Johnston and McCrory will slowly make their transition back to competitive diving, competing for the Blue Devils this season. After a year full of international success, the pair said they look forward to competing for Duke again for the first time since the 2010-11 season.