Madison Krall is a twenty-something student of health and medicine at CU Denver, where her research focuses on the public discourse surrounding women’s health.

A recent speaker at Point of Departure, when she’s not studying, she loves finding ways to incorporate wine and cheese into every meal. As a proud Christian feminist, Madison adamantly believes we live in a world where people are inherently good. She will be starting her PhD in communication studies this fall at the University of Utah.

Here we talk about competitive swimming, the power of coaching, and what it means to sonder.


You were an undergrad at Pepperdine in Malibu, right?

Yes. I actually grew up swimming, and when I was looking at schools it was academics first, but naturally swimming came next. I always thought I would end up on the east coast at a small liberal arts college, and then Pepperdine came into the mix. It’s a Division 1 institution and they offered me some scholarship money to swim so that kind of made my decision for me.

What did you study there?

I studied psychology and minored in English literature. It was great!

Sounds like you’ll be in school for a while. Do you have an end goal in mind?

I have known for a while that I want to work in education, I actually coached swimming during my undergraduate time at Pepperdine. I really like working with college students, so the end goal, the ultimate dream, would be to find a tenure track position, ideally in a place like Colorado where I can teach and do research. The service component is also important, so I’m looking for an institution with a diverse student body where social justice is emphasized, while still prioritizing an academic focus.

I’m intrigued by your swimming scholarship because I have two boys who have been swimming since they were young. They’re into a lot of different sports, but I always try to remind them that swimming is something you can do forever, maybe not competitively, but for a long time.

Yeah. At the 2012 Olympics Dara Torres swam the 50-meter freestyle at the age of 50. She is incredible. I wouldn’t be surprised if down the road people come back later in the their careers. Michael Phelps is only in his thirties..

I’ve heard from friends who are educators that swimmers tend to be very together, in terms of staying out of trouble and having clear priorities.

I’ve definitely heard that before. You have to be really disciplined. If I truly thought about how many hours I’ve put into my schoolwork and my swimming, it would probably be pretty similar. There were a lot of mornings when I was up at 5:30. I was in the pool for two hours and spent an hour in the gym most afternoons, then was at the pool for another two hours in the evening. It takes a lot of time.

I was intimidated by team sports growing up, so I spent a lot of time skateboarding, which is sort of you against yourself. I feel like there is a strong element of that in swimming, but you can also get that team experience.

I agree, it’s the perfect balance. Swimming gave me a lot—there is no denying that. But I think that through leaving swimming and finding coaching I realized I could pursue other passions. That definitely led me to discovering I liked running and paddle boarding. I also really love school. I’m a huge nerd when it comes to school.

What was the transition from being an athlete to a coach like?

It was really fun, but I did come up against a few hurdles. I had a very supportive coaching staff that really helped me figure out what makes a good swimming coach. It was helpful to develop relationships with my swimmers and for them to recognize that I could help them achieve their goals.

Were you able to bring some of the things you are learning from psychology courses into the coaching realm?

Yes, particularly with women, because the rest of the coaching staff were men. I was thinking a lot about how to implement positive mental health, particularly when it might come to anxiety in school, or concerns with relationships, whether they be a significant other, or with friends. You hear about drama happening, and that exists for the entirety of our lives. In college it can be really detrimental to your mental health if you’re not welcomed by the group or if you have other struggles. Being the female staff member who was able to talk to both the male and female swimmers about the things that they might be struggling with made me grateful for my psychology background.

Do you have a favorite TED Talk?

I teach a presentational speaking class, “Fundamentals of Communication in Business, and Professional Speaking,” and I use TED talks a lot. Ann Cuddy’s talk on nonverbals we use in our nonverbal communication course. I love Amy Adele Hasinoff’s talk on sexting, because of our relationship through CU Denver.

I really like John Koenig’s talk “Beautiful New Words to Describe Obscure Emotions” from TEDxBerkeley. I love etymology. I love that he finds emotions people are experiencing where they don’t have a label and gives words to those. For example, he created the word “sonder” and he talked about how odd it is to see people using his word out in the world. People are grateful to have a name that they can put to an emotion they have been experiencing that didn’t already have a name.

What does it mean to sonder? I’m picturing someone sauntering while pondering.

Sonder is the feeling of getting what you wanted for a long time or the dread of getting what you’ve always wanted. He uses other languages too and brings up words we don’t have in the Western vernacular. He asks questions like “Why do they have this word in the Chinese language, but we don’t have an equivalent?” People are able to use these beautiful new words to better understand what they are feeling.