By Lauren Perry
“Idle” is a word that will never be used to describe Jacob Hegge.
Hegge, son of Arlene and Tom Hegge, has seen and experienced a lifetime’s worth of opportunities and excitement in his three short years since leaving the halls of Caledonia High School in 2011.
“I remember reading an article when I was in high school about a former graduate who took some chances and really put himself out there. After reading it, that’s what I decided to do,” Hegge said.
Hegge can attribute all of his adventures to swimming – a sport he began at the age of 10 and has been participating in ever since. While in high school, Hegge swam four morning practices a week in addition to Sunday mornings.
“The hardest part was that I would have to drive from Caledonia to La Crosse practically every morning and be back for school,” he said.
Since graduating, Hegge has visited Germany, London, Australia and Barcelona and is currently planning trips to Italy and China. During his senior year, swimming guided him to Kenyon College, a small liberal arts school in Gambier, Ohio, commonly referred to as “an Ivy League of the Midwest,” where he studies economics, Chinese and Spanish.
While at Kenyon, Hegge had the opportunity to travel to Barcelona, Spain, for the summer to study Spanish and train.
“I wasn’t even able to leave the city, because studying and training took up all of my time,” Hegge said.
Practicing 10 times a week, with an additional three days of lifting, Hegge was bound for the NCAAs, feeling as confident as ever.
“I was swimming my final 500 yard freestyle in February, jumped in the water and felt good. On my last 50 yards, I knew I wasn’t going to make it.”
The 20-year-old, who lost the thing he’d been working for since high school, returned to school feeling defeated.
For spring break, one of his friends, who had also missed qualifying, invited Hegge to go with him to the Virgin Islands.
Hegge agreed to go, making a decision that would open a new door to a very large opportunity.
“My friend was from Washington, D.C., so we ended our trip there and I was given the invitation to stay with his family over the summer,” Hegge explained.
Agreeing to the opportunity, Hegge took the position of the head swim coach for the NorthWest Branch Swim Team in Silver Spring, Md.
While coaching one morning, a parent came up and introduced himself to Hegge.
“He said, ‘My name is Denis McDonough.’ I was talking to the current Chief of Staff for the White House,” Hegge said.
“His kids had told him what I was studying, and what I’d gone through last year, so he told me that he’d set up a meeting for me and introduce me to some of the really important people in D.C.,” Hegge said.
Later that week, Denis McDonough’s wife approached Hegge, asking him for his social security number, passport and date of birth.
“I was told it was for security purposes, and that my meeting would be at the White House,” Hegge said.
Hegge met at the White House again after his original meeting, and was offered an internship with the state department.
“I could see myself working for the U.S. State Department, working in an embassy or on international economic issues,” he said. “I like the policy side of economics, so in 10 years’ time, I can definitely see myself working for the government.”
After Kenyon, Hegge plans to spend a year to two in China, teaching English.
“I plan to come back and attend the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in Princeton, N.J., to get my masters,” which, he said, would qualify him to work for the State Department or the National Economics Council.
As for swimming, “when it’s done, I think I’ll be done,” Hegge said.
“Swimming was more than a sport; it guided me through my life and has made me the person I am today.” Without swimming, he wouldn’t have met the people he has and wouldn’t have had these opportunities, he said.
“The thing I want people to realize is that you need to take the chances you’re presented with,” Hegge said. “I took a risk going out to D.C. and it was the best thing I’ve ever done. When one door closes, you can be sure that a bigger and better door will open up.”