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College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management

  • UofSC swimmer and sport and entertainment management student, Christina Lappin, stands smiling for the camera.

“By the grace of God and adrenaline:” UofSC graduate overcomes five heart surgeries to excel in academics and athletics

By Allen Wallace,
Posted on April 23, 2020

“Just keep swimming.” The advice for tough times made famous by Disney’s Finding Nemo is a metaphor for most people. For University of South Carolina senior Christina Lappin, who has overcome staggering obstacles along her road to graduation this May, it is very much a literal mantra as well.

Lappin will claim her bachelor of science degree in sport and entertainment management from one of the top-ranked programs in the world. The student-athlete will also graduate as a university record holder in seven different swimming events (every one in which she competes). She has been named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll and the Scholar All-America team. It’s a resume anyone would be proud of and even more so when achieved while overcoming a health condition that required five heart surgeries in the last nine years.

"I've always had setbacks, and it's reminded me that God has a plan for me,” Lappin says. “It gives me passion and drive to work so much harder."

Lappin learned at age 12 that she was born with a potentially life-threatening heart condition. Her battle with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome has been longer and more complicated than most, with her three most recent heart surgeries coming during her time at South Carolina.

Her first heart surgery while at South Carolina came just three weeks before the SEC tournament in her freshman year. She swam anyway, and set a school record in one event, as she puts it, “by the grace of God and adrenaline.”

"It wasn't as great as I wanted,” she adds with a self-effacing smile. “But I had some bumps in the road."

Throughout her time at South Carolina, she has overcome every obstacle — excelling in the classroom and in the pool through determination and drive. Swimming is a year-round sport that requires rigorous training and discipline. Lappin is in the pool training before dawn and in bed most nights before 10. When she isn’t in the water, she is immersed in her studies and has shown that hard work can make a strong impression.

“You would never know she’s a student athlete at an elite level. She participates in class, asks great questions and the students respond to her energy,” says Tom Regan, associate professor and director of graduate studies for South Carolina’s Department of Sport and Entertainment Management. “That commitment to excellence in the classroom and during competition prepares a very special person for the industry. She doesn’t understand failure and is going to be a great addition to any sport or entertainment enterprise. Over my 25+ years of teaching you don’t see many Christinas.”

Lappin, a North Carolina native, chose South Carolina for its academic reputation as much as its athletic one. The Gamecocks swim team consistently has one of the highest GPAs in the country, and the sport and entertainment management program is recognized as No. 1 in the nation. She wanted to be challenged in the classroom, and she hasn’t been disappointed.

Having teachers that I build relationships with is one of my favorite things. Dr. Regan, Jackie Hague, Paul Graham... learning from people like that is really awesome. You know they've been in the industry and they can really help you. You know you're learning real life things."

—  Christina Lappin, May 2020 sport and entertainment management graduate

"It's given me awesome opportunities to push myself in the classroom but also to enjoy learning,” she says. “I'm learning about things I want to do in the future. Having teachers that I have built relationships with is one of my favorite things. Dr. Regan, Jackie Hague, Paul Graham... learning from people like that is really awesome. You know they've been in the industry and they can really help you. You know you're learning real life things."

Through classroom experiences and an internship with the SC United Bantams soccer club, Lappin has set her sights on a career in sport management, possibly in public relations or gameday operations for a team.

Though the COVID-19 crisis cut short her last chance to compete in the NCAA tournament in March, she leaves a legacy to be proud of.

While Lappin knows she will eventually need open heart surgery, her time at South Carolina has taught her that she is made of boundless resilience. She came into college facing more obstacles than most people, and leaves the same way, but with even more proof that she can handle them all.

"My family, my faith, my friends and my teammates. Those are truly what get me through," she says. "Focus on your priorities and things will come together for you as long as you work hard."

Here’s a health, Christina, forever to thee.

Learn more about the Department of Sport and Entertainment Management.

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