NEW YORK -- Tara Kirk set the world record in the 100-meter breaststroke, swept four straight NCAA titles and became a favorite to make the Olympic team.
Still, when it came to the Stanford swimmer winning the
Broderick Cup as the nation's collegiate woman athlete of the year,
her mother was concerned about the competition.
"We watched the women's Final Four and saw Diana Taurasi. She was outstanding. When Tara told us that she'd won, we were like,
'Really?' We were surprised," Margaret Kirk said.
With her parents watching, Kirk accepted the Broderick Cup in ceremonies at Columbia University on Monday.
Kirk credited her teammates and competitors for making her
better, and thanked her mom and dad for years of their daily ritual
of "up at 5 a.m., driving me to swim practice."
Kirk will turn 22 next month, during the U.S. Olympic team
trials. She hopes to go to Athens in the 100- and 200-meter
breaststroke events, and has already committed to training for the
2008 Beijing Games.
"I'm excited to race with some fast girls," she said. "It
will take an American record to make the team."
Kirk was among five finalists, a group that included North
Carolina soccer standout Catherine Reddick, Florida State softball
player Jessica van der Linden, Southern California volleyball star
April Ross and Taurasi, who led Connecticut to three straight
Taurasi, however, was declared ineligible for the honor and
received no votes because rules call for the winner to attend the
trophy presentation. She declined to travel to New York.
Taurasi, the two-time Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four and the No. 1 pick in this year's WNBA draft, plays home games for the Phoenix Mercury on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
"She put her team ahead of the award," Mercury spokeswoman Tami Nealy said. "She didn't want to miss a day of practice."
Mary Ellen Gordon, who won the singles and doubles national tennis titles at Emory, was chosen as the Division III athlete of the year.
"I'm looking for a job right now," she said. "As far as
competitive tennis, "I think I'm done."
Chanda Gunn, who overcame epilepsy to become a star goaltender on Northeastern's hockey team, won the Inspiration Award, sponsored by Honda.
Gunn began her college career at Wisconsin. But when her
seizures increased, the coaches did not want to reinstate Gunn
because of her condition. So she contacted other schools and found
a spot at Northeastern.
"I don't think of myself as an inspiration," she said.
Someone else who could've won that award was distance runner Zoila Gomez of Adams State College, the Division II winner.
Born in Mexico and one of 16 children, her father died when she was 6.
Now 25, she's had a busy year. She cared for a younger sister,
prepared to become an American citizen and get her degree, and won
Division II crowns in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters outdoors and
All the while, she kept her job as a custodian on the campus at
"I start at 6 a.m. when I come into the office to pick up the
trash. Then I dust-mop the floors and clean the windows.
"I am no different than anyone else," she said. "I am not
ashamed of what I do. I work hard."
Gomez thanked Mildred Mondragon, the supervisor of the school's custodial staff and the woman who acts as a surrogate mother. A beaming Mondragon was at Columbia, too.
"You see her every day and watch her, she does not act like she is so special," Mondragon said, "but she is."