‘We Were Sold.’ The Allure of UVA, as Told by the Parents of Champion Swimmers

March 19, 2024 By Andrew Ramspacher, fpa5up@virginia.edu Andrew Ramspacher, fpa5up@virginia.edu

A few months after their oldest daughter committed to the University of Virginia, to eventually became part of a women’s swimming dynasty, Glynis and Robert Walsh made their own maiden voyage to Grounds from their home in Nashville. 

They enjoyed a guided tour of the Lawn and Rotunda, peeked inside Edgar Allan Poe’s room and dined on the Corner. They took trips to Monticello and Carter Mountain Orchard and a scenic ride along Skyline Drive. 

The Walshes might have even shared a toast while taking in the views from atop The Graduate hotel.

“We were sold,” Robert Walsh said. “If we could have gone back to school, we would have joined immediately. ‘Where do we sign up for this?’”

Glynis and Robert Walsh are the parents of the two main reasons why the UVA women’s swimming and diving team is favored to win a fourth consecutive NCAA championship this week in Athens, Georgia. The event begins Wednesday and concludes Saturday.

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Alex Walsh, who pledged to the Cavaliers in January 2019, and Gretchen Walsh, who did the same a year later, are All-Americans and among the best young swimmers in the world. Alex, a senior, and Gretchen, a junior, are both in position to qualify for the United States Olympic teamcoached by UVA’s Todd DeSorbo – this summer in Paris. Alex is already an Olympic medalist after earning a silver in the 200-meter individual medley in Tokyo in 2021.

Both Alex and Gretchen hold pool, school, conference and national records in multiple events.

 

 

 

 

In some ways, Glynis and Robert are atypical UVA parents, as not every Wahoo mom and dad can lay claim to a superstar student-athlete on scholarship, let alone two. How they’ve grown to love the University through their children, however, is a relatable story.

Glynis, a former collegiate swimmer, graduated from Boston College, and Robert is an alumnus of the University of Tennessee. The couple had a baseline sense of UVA when it first came on their radar during Alex’s recruiting process. They knew it had a strong reputation for not only its athletics, but for academic excellence.

Picture of Glynis and Robert Walsh at UVA Pool and Rotunda.
From the Rotunda to the pool, Glynis and Robert Walsh have thoroughly enjoyed their time exploring UVA over the years. (Contributed photos)

The latter aligned with what they wanted their girls to think about when deciding on a college.

“What we tried to do was challenge them to pick a school that they may not get into otherwise if not for the fact that they were good swimmers,” Robert, who works in real estate, said. “We wanted to give them the opportunity to pick whatever school they wanted. We would have been OK with any school, but we just tried to challenge them to pick one that would also be academically challenging for them.”

“We told them to find a spot that’s right for you, not just for swimming,” Glynis, an emergency physician, said, “but for everything else.”

That included the overall feel of the place. After Alex’s first trip to Charlottesville, she returned home and told her mother, a Connecticut native living in Nashville: “You’re going to love it. It’s like a combination of Connecticut and Tennessee.”

Alex sensed a blend of Northeastern and Southern charm among the students and residents, something that her parents later confirmed for themselves. 

“She was right,” Glynis said. “It was like this magical oasis and a happy place for all.”

“When you’re there, you wouldn’t know that you’re close to anything,” added Robert, who grew up in Maryland. “It’s truly this college town nestled in this beautiful valley with all the vineyards and horse farms and it really feels special. We have friends that talk about retiring there. A lot of people want to be there.”

Their daughters have thrived here. Pool accolades aside, Alex has made the Atlantic Coast Conference Academic Honor Roll – awarded to those student-athletes with a GPA of 3.0 or better for a full academic year – three times and is set to graduate this spring with a computer science degree. Last summer, she interned at Quantitative Investment Management, a $1 billion, Charlottesville-based hedge fund. 

Group Picture of Glynis, Gretchen, Alex and Robert Walsh
With their parents cheering them on this week in Athens, Georgia, Gretchen and Alex Walsh will aim to help bring the Cavaliers a fourth straight NCAA championship. (Photo by Jamie Holt, UVA Athletics)

Gretchen, a student in the McIntire School of Commerce on track to graduate next spring, has twice made the ACC Academic Honor Roll. Last year, she joined her sister as a first-team scholar All-American as chosen by the College Swimming & Diving Coaches Association of America. 

Their success has made the eight-hour drives to UVA worth it for their parents. New to town five years ago, Glynis and Robert consider themselves Charlottesville regulars now, thanks to their monthly visits. 

Like their daughters, they, too, have formed tight bonds through UVA. The Walshes are close with other swim parents and often tailgate together outside the Aquatic & Fitness Center before the Cavaliers’ home meets.

“We’ve become best friends with these people who are going through a similar experience as we are,” Robert said, “and that has been such a rewarding thing for us.”

With Alex undecided on whether she’ll use her pandemic-aided bonus year of eligibility, this week’s NCAA championships could be the last time the Walshes see their daughters compete together as Wahoos. 

The unique experience has been “more than we could have ever imagined,” Robert said. “They both do extremely well academically and athletically, they’ve got lifelong friends, they’re on a championship team and they’re happy.

“As parents, we couldn’t ask for anything more. We feel so fortunate for UVA.”

Media Contact

Andrew Ramspacher

University News Associate University Communications