Inspirational leader: Fossum developed leadership role during USD swimming career

University of South Dakota's Christian Fossum competes during his senior season. The Mitchell native was voted a team captain and most inspirational by his teammates. (Madisen Martinez / University of South Dakota Athletics)

VERMILLION -- Christian Fossum assumed any role for the University of South Dakota swimming and diving team.

He consistently competed in the individual medley, and swam all but the breaststroke individually, too. The senior specialized in the 200-yard butterfly due to the desire of attacking the challenge of the long-distance race, which originated when he competed with the Mitchell Aquatic Club in high school.

He ended his career with the eighth-best time in program history in the 200-butterfly (1:54.40), yet his most important role came outside of the pool. Fossum, a team captain his senior year, has always led by example. His leadership role grew during his four years, and this year, his teammates voted him ‘Most inspirational.’

“I was really honored because I wouldn’t say it’s something I actively worked toward, like it wasn’t one of my goals,” Fossum said. “... I wanted to be a leader this year, and I was happy everything I did was recognized by my teammates.”

It’s the same recognition Fossum dished out all season. At the end of practices, USD allowed its swimmers to give shoutouts to their teammates. Fossum consistently was in the middle of the action handing out compliments.


That came with time, though. He didn’t enter USD focused on being a leader. He thought his biggest takeaway would be the times he hit in the pool. As he got older, the emphasis to become a well-rounded student-athlete started to form.

The mathematics education major was named to the Summit League honor roll three times and the Commissioner’s List of Academic Excellence twice. Fossum also was the vice president of USD’s student-athlete advisory committee this year.

“I think that gave him credibility that he wasn’t just doing it in one area. He was doing it in all areas,” USD coach Jason Mahowald said. “… I think all that combined just gave him credibility to be able to do those things, like lead.”

His mindset entering his freshman to senior season changed dramatically. This year, he was set on being a team leader. On a team with nearly 70 swimmers and four coaches, Mahowald relies on his captains to motivate teammates, as well as being the eyes and ears outside of the pool.

It was an “eye-opening experience” for the Mitchell native, as he toed the line of being a stern leader and a friendly face.

“It’s really hard to be kind of that strong voice of, ‘No guys, we can’t do this.’ And then still being, kind of make sure you’re still friends with everybody, too,” Fossum said. “It was really interesting trying to find that balance of being a leader … and keep everyone on track, but not strang from the path. But still being friends and being friendly with everyone.”

University of South Dakota's Christian Fossum competes during his senior season. (Madisen Martinez / University of South Dakota Athletics)


Fossum leaves the pool with the eighth best 200-butterfly time in program history. He still remembers hearing his name as a sophomore called from the speaker after he placed eighth at the Summit League Championships as he found his parents in the crowd.

It was the high point of his USD swimming career, but even as he put together one of the best long-distance butterfly races in school history, he never stopped being a plug-and-play swimmer. His training still veered toward the butterfly, but his versatility made him useful during dual meets. It meant he didn’t get bogged down from consistently swimming the same race, which in hindsight, he felt helped his career.

“Outside of the points he scored us, he just made us a better team,” Mahowald said, referencing his leadership.
Fossum will leave the pool, but his leadership skills will translate. He aspires to be a high school math teacher like his father, Scott, was at Mitchell High School. He likes the straightforward thinking in math, as well as how it applies to everyday life.

Next year, he’ll stay in Vermillion. Fossum will be a middle school student-teacher before transferring to the high school for the second semester. There won’t be a pool, but he’ll still get a chance to apply one of his most useful skills.

“I think the biggest thing is he just brought unbelievable leadership and consistency, and showing people how to train, how to be a good teammate,” Mahowald said. “All-around just how to act is the best way to describe him.”

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