Bierich: A Sense of Humor, Sense of Self
Jan. 27, 2009
IOWA CITY, Iowa - The staff of the UI Athletics Department gathers 10 times a year on the second floor of the Paul W. Brechler Press Box at historic Kinnick Stadium to be briefed by its director; to hear from head coaches whose teams are currently in season; and to learn firsthand from a current student-athlete how what they do for a living positively impacts the nearly 700 young men and women who represent the University of Iowa in intercollegiate athletics competition.
The guest speaker at January's gathering -- Christian Bierich, a senior on the UI's men's tennis team coached by the UI's "dean of coaches," Steve Houghton -- was a true delight in many ways. The 23-year-old native of Landvetter, Sweden, spoke candidly and, at times, humorously, about his path to Iowa City and his experience as a Hawkeye.
Don't get the impression that Bierich is the next David Letterman, however.
He's worked hard to get a grip on the English language -- "It's frustrating because my Dad can speak seven languages."
And, like many freshman at the UI and, presumably, other universities across the country, he struggled academically at first. But, soon realized that an superior support system of tutors and counselors and others were available and he took full advantage of the resources and is on pace to graduate this spring.
"To be honest, it's easy to be successful because of the support that's available. It's also much easier to visit Nancy Parker (one of the senior staff of the UI's Athletics Student Services Office) now than when I was struggling a bit," he confided.
Bierich is also observant and bold -- and intelligent enough -- to have and voice an opinion. For example, he spoke about the notion that his country is heralded for having a government-run health care system that meets the needs of its citizens.
"Of course, I think it's fantastic and am very proud of that, but it does need to be put into perspective," he noted. "The population of Sweden is about the same as the city of Chicago. It's certainly easier to take care of a city than it is to take care of a country the size of the United States."
Bierich also noted the sports culture in the United States dwarfs that of his home country. He used 70,000-seat Kinnick Stadium to make his point.
"We don't have a venue this large in my home country and, yet, here, we have one in Iowa and we fill it up. It's tremendous and exciting," he said.
In early November Bierich became the second Hawkeye in eight years to win the Big Ten Conference Men's Tennis Single Championship. He didn't just win it, he torched the field, dropping just one set in six matches en route to the title. The victory capped a fall campaign that saw Bierich win all but one of the 15 matches he played.
"Christian deserves this in terms of all the hard work he has put in," Houghton said at the time. "It's a great achievement and a great way to cap off the fall season."
The Hawkeyes open their 2009 spring season on Jan. 31 when they entertain Northern Illinois at 1:30 p.m. inside the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Center.
"I'm thinking I'd like to teach tennis back home. Tennis is getting a little `sloppy' there and I think I can help them out," he said with a confident smile.
"When I reflect on my years here at Iowa, I know I gained experience and gained confidence," Bierich continued. "In fact, I never thought I could speak before a group like this. It's pretty cool."