ASU champions invited to White House for photo with president; here, one team member shares her capital experience in Washington
Two weeks ago, the Arizona State University women’s triathlon team won its second consecutive national championship — an honor soon followed by another: an invitation to meet the president at the White House.
It’s an experience few get to have, so kinesiology senior Katie Gorczyca agreed to write about the team’s time in Washington, D.C., for ASU Now to share what it was like. What follows is her travelogue and some of the team’s photos from the trip.
We met at our usual pool location at 7:30 a.m. all matching in our gold pitchfork sweatshirts and white Ultra Boosts. Typically, we would have our bikes packed with us as well, but it was a little different since we’re traveling for another purpose this time. Everyone arrived with a smile because we couldn’t be more excited to visit our nation’s capital — and it’s a bit of relief to not have to stress about competing, but rather a vacation with my favorite people.
At Sky Harbor International Airport, people were curious as to who we were and where we were going. After learning about our win and invitation to the White House, we received congratulations and some wishes of “Good luck!” Since the invitation to the Washington event was fairly recent, we could only get middle seats. Luckily, we all managed to get some homework done on the plane so that we could enjoy our time. It is a great feeling to be a part of such an amazing team. I’ll remember this trip forever, and I will never forget these girls — even when I’m 90 years old.
After our arrival at the Melrose Georgetown Hotel, we changed and walked over to the Kennedy Center for a 7 p.m. National Symphony Orchestra concert. It was pretty cold and windy — we were definitely no longer in Tempe, Arizona. Our seats were in the balcony section, and the concert was beautiful. The only hiccup was when one of the violinists had a string break and had to hand it over to another musician to fix. The concert hall was very large and had good acoustics. After the symphony ended, we walked out and took pictures and then went back to the hotel for bed. We were in for a busy day on Friday!
This was the day of the event! We woke up early to get ready. We needed to wear business attire, closed-toe shoes and warm coats. We gathered in the lobby at 8:40 a.m. and complimented each other on how impressively nice we clean up. It was a little weird to see my teammates so fancy when I’m used to seeing them in bathing suits or athletic clothes.
At the White House, we stood outside for about 15 minutes shivering because it was so cold. There were other championship teams waiting around as well. As we finally started to move, all of my teammates (including me) struggled to look natural while walking in heels because we’d rather be wearing our adidas running shoes. However, I think we managed perfectly.
We went through a security checkpoint where we had to show our identification and walk through a metal detector. After we passed that walkway, we walked by a dog that was sniffing for banned substances and went through another security checkpoint. The military guards were a bit intimidating with machine guns strapped across their chests. We finally made it to the entryway in the middle wing of the White House. One of the guards caught my eye and we kind of squinted at each other because he looked familiar. We realized that we recognized each other from when I was training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and he was a security guard there. I thought that was awesome!
The Sun Devils continued through the White House and were greeted by several friendly guards who told us that we were allowed to explore the middle wing until the event at 11:30 a.m. I checked my coat at the coat check, which we later found out was the presidential movie theater, and then gathered with the team to discuss a plan. We were all so excited to begin exploring that we had to go in every room! Some of us began in the bathroom, and we were impressed by how ornate it was! The napkins to dry our hands were so nice and had the White House seal on them — we kept them as souvenirs!
We continued exploring the rooms, including the library and the china room, taking lots of photos and feeling stoked to have such an opportunity. After I was done roaming the downstairs, I wandered upstairs to the level where the event would be. There were 17 other national championship teams at this event so we got to see other students our age dressed up and in awe as well. However, I think our team looked the best.
(Front) Lillie Robinson, Coach Cliff English, President Donald Trump, Katie Gorczyca, Sarah Quintero, Assistant Media Relations Director Mollie Hanke; (back) Senior Woman Administrator Deana Garner Smith, Assistant Coach Erin Densham, Associate Athletics Director Bill Kennedy, Kendal Williams, Secretary Betsy DeVos, Delaney Bucker, Charlotte Ahrens, Operations Coordinator Nicole Welling.White House photo
The team also got to visit the Oval Office, where they showed some Sun Devil pride.
On the way into the White House, the team got to experience a series of security checkpoints.
While they waited for the president, the student-athletes explored impressive rooms at the White House, including the Library, the China Room and the ornate restroom.
The team's bling: Sun Devils sport their triathlon championship rings at the White House.
Later, the team toured the U.S. Capitol and visited the office of U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. The ASU alumna was traveling and not there in person, but there was plenty of Sun Devil pride on display.
The team split into two groups, one touring the Library of Congress (pictured) and the other the National Air and Space Museum. Later they reunited and toured a number of Washington monuments, forming memories to last a lifetime.
We learned about the important events that had happened in these rooms; the first one I walked into upstairs was where President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama Bin Laden. I continued throughout the house and discovered our Arizona State Triathlon nameplate where we would stand for the picture. There were several other rooms as well including one with a live jazz band. It was like a giant party! We mingled with other teams like the Texas A&M track and field team whose rings were huge! (I still like ours better, though.)
We were told to wait near our sign because the president would arrive soon. We were also informed to not hand him anything, nor make any sudden movements. The people in charge were directing us as to where exactly we would each stand so that there was an opening for the president as well as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. After that was all sorted, we waited around a bit longer. Everyone kept thinking that he would arrive soon, but it seemed like forever!
Suddenly, the doors to our room opened up and a swarm of press and media filed in. We watched as President Donald Trump walked over to the Virginia tennis team and greeted everyone and then posed for the picture. Next, he moved over to the team to our right and took their picture with them, the Florida baseball team. We knew that our turn was next! So, we all got into position and acted as natural as we could.
DeVos introduced herself to us first and even asked me what happened to my arm (I have a cast). Then, the president walked up to our team and shook some of our hands. He told me, “Oh, take care of that” and he congratulated our team on our win. He also did some small talk about the latest New York City marathon result as the winner was American. Next thing you know, he positioned himself between myself and our head coach and posed for our picture. It was crazy how many people surrounded him as he walked from room to room.
Regardless of everyone’s political views, I think it was so special for our team to be honored with such an opportunity after our accomplishments. After he left, we were escorted to the Oval Office. We had a photographer take our picture there as well but were scolded if we tried to take any of our own. The weather was gorgeous, and I couldn’t get over how pretty the view was.
Next on our agenda was lunch at the U.S. Capitol building and a visit to the office of U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. We were greeted by two men who introduced Rep. Sinema via recording since she was actually on her way back to Arizona. We learned that she is an ASU alumna and would be at IMAZ (Arizona Ironman) on Sunday volunteering. She seemed very sweet and we got a quick tour of her office and then another picture. I think by that point, our facial muscles were starting to get tired. I know that everyone’s feet were starting to hurt as well because I wanted to change out of my heels ASAP.
Then we got an official tour of the Capitol building and learned a lot of cool facts. We got to see where all the laws were made as well as learn about the history of each room. There were even cat paw prints on the ground near a staircase because, we were told, as the cement was setting, mice were running around and cats were invited in to get rid of them.
After the Capitol tour (some of us were walking barefoot by this point), we split into two groups, one going to the Library of Congress and the other (the group I was in) to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Later we reunited, grabbing some Starbucks to warm up while we waited for our monument tour of Washington.
We rode around to the different sites, and our tour guide was very informative and funny! We first stopped at the Jefferson Memorial and walked around for even more pictures. It was dark and cold, so we tried to make it quick so we could get back on the warm bus. We continued on and saw the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam and Korean War memorials, Washington Monument, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and drove by the Capitol building again. It was so interesting to learn that the statue of the woman on the top of the Capitol building stands 19.6 feet tall and represents freedom. We were told that she is the tallest statue in Washington because nothing is greater than freedom. Lincoln’s statue is only 6 inches shorter, because he was a very important president.
After a late dinner of tapas, we made it back to the hotel and crashed. It was a great, long day and we were all exhausted.
My birthday! I woke up at 7:15 a.m. to go for a light run with some of my teammates. We ran around the city admiring the brisk air and monuments once more. I suggested that we make a stop by Arlington National Cemetery because we were so close and I wanted to see my grandfather. We got in and found his grave — I was so happy to have done that and made another memory. We arrived back at the hotel and got ready for the day.
Everyone set off on separate adventures. For example, my coach (Cliff English) and Deana Garner Smith went for a walk, Lillie Robinson and Kendal Williams checked out the Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Coach Erin (Densham), Nicole Welling, Sarah Quintero and I had brunch on the Georgetown waterfront. Brunch was amazing! We sat outside next to a fire and an ice skating rink. It was buffet style and the food was spectacular! It was an awesome start to my birthday, and I’m so glad I could enjoy it with some great company. We chatted and then walked back to our hotel and gathered our things. I said goodbye to the doorman and thanked our van driver for escorting us around. It was bittersweet to be leaving Washington, D.C., but I made memories that will last a lifetime.