Feb. 13, 2014
By Jerome Boettcher | Subscribe to Commodore Nation
Strangely enough, Chrissy Oberg didn’t find the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C., daunting.
Quite the contrary, actually. She thrived in it.
The Vanderbilt swimmer spent the summer before her junior year engulfed in the nation’s capital city. For nearly three months, five days a week, nine hours a day, she worked the halls of the Dirksen Senate Office Building as an intern for Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
Thanks to guidance from academic counselor Allison Wenzel, she landed in the Vanderbilt Internship Experience in Washington (VIEW) program.
Oberg worked in constituent relations in the press office for Alexander, himself a Vanderbilt grad and former governor of Tennessee. Her duties ranged from answering phones to sending out mail and arranging press clippings. She observed the everyday challenges of Alexander’s team and gained a greater respect for the 73-year-old senator, who is the ranking Senate Republican who oversees education, labor and health, as well as energy appropriations. She even gave tours of the nearby Capitol Building.
“Working in Sen. Alexander’s office, we had a sense of responsibility. We were doing things,” Oberg said. “We weren’t just getting coffee or making copies. Even though we did make copies and answer phones, they also, from time to time, would give us other things to do that were more significant in a way. Everyone in the office was so nice and so respectful. They treated us with respect, which was nice and not really what I expected. It was great. I really enjoyed it.
“It was one of the most amazing experiences.”
In fact, the demands of D.C. didn’t faze Oberg. If anything, she realized she had more free time than she was used to.
In her third year at Vanderbilt, she is used to a typical day starting with 6 a.m. swim practice, followed by a 9 a.m. class, time for a quick lunch, more class and then weight lifting for two hours. Then, studying takes her into the evening.
“When you wake up in the morning, until you go to sleep at night you are doing something,” Oberg said. “Being a student-athlete prepares you for the craziness of life very, very well. But this summer completely reinforced for me how being a student-athlete you have a sense of this strong work ethic, and it transfers to other things.”
A native of Spartanburg, S.C., Oberg has been a rising star for the Commodores. She contributed to a historical 2012-13 season by breaking the school records in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke.
This, perhaps not a coincidence, came after she fulfilled a lifelong dream.
Swimming competitively since she was five, Oberg made it a goal to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. Last summer, she broke through with a then-personal best time of 2:17.46 (she’s shaved 20 seconds off since) a month before the trials in Omaha, Neb.
She became the first VU swimmer to swim at the trials since the program was resurrected in 2006. Weeks before the Summer Olympics in London, she shared the pool with the likes of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.
“Trials was… it was amazing. It was by far the coolest meet I’ve ever been to,” she said. “The SECs is the most fun meet because I have the team. Going to SECs every year with the girls is so much fun because we’ve been through such a long season together. Trials is just different because that is a goal I’ve had for myself since I knew what Trials was. It is something I wanted for a really, really long time. Getting to go and getting to swim and experience that was definitely worth all the hard work.”
After next year, Oberg sees her competitive swimming career ending. But the opportunities afforded to her by Vanderbilt and the flexibility allowed by coach Jeremy Organ have opened up other doors.
The political itch stayed with Oberg when she returned to Nashville in August.
With Alexander up for re-election in the fall of 2014, Oberg is working on his campaign at his Nashville office near Vanderbilt’s campus.
She works three days a week, as many as 15 hours, as a finance intern. She organizes checks received from donors, sends out mail and invitations from the office and attends fundraisers and events. She hopes to stick around this summer and stay on the campaign through the November election.
An American history major with a minor in American politics, Oberg wants to attend law school. But before last summer, she admits she was more in love with the idea of getting back to D.C. than being immersed in the politics around it. But she spent a week in D.C. the summer of 2012—her first visit to the city—and realized she needed to get back.
“Being in D.C. this summer, I realized I really care about politics and the way our government is run,” she said. “It’s a lot different from what I thought it was. So now I just want to keep involved because it is always changing. People come into office. People go out of office. Things change and administrations turn over. It is just so interesting. It is so important because the government is so big and influential that it has control over so much. I think it is so important to be invested in it. So that is what I’m trying to continue to do.”