Sept. 12, 2013
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Memorial Gymnasium has always held special memories for Carolyn Peck. It is in the SEC's most historic gym where the Jefferson City, Tenn., native starred for the Commodores from 1985-88 and helped lead Vanderbilt to its first of 26 NCAA Tournament appearances. The gym is also where Peck and her teammates defeated rival Tennessee on two occasions, including the first time in school history.
But of all the great memories she has in Memorial Gymnasium from her playing days, none can top what she will forever remember from her most recent visit to the gym.
Since her time at Vanderbilt, Peck's basketball career took her oversees to Italy and Japan as a player and then back to the U.S. as a coach turned ESPN announcer. Her coaching and broadcasting career has brought her to Nashville and Memorial Gymnasium on numerous occasions, but until last week, Peck had never been back to campus outside of work-related visits.
Last Friday, Peck and her boyfriend, James O'Brien, who live in Gainesville, Fla., made the trip to Nashville, where Peck was being enshrined in Vanderbilt's Athletic Hall of Fame.
The couple arrived in Music City late morning, took a tour of campus and ate lunch at San Antonio Taco Company. Peck planned on stopping by Memorial Gymnasium on the way back to the hotel, but O'Brien had other plans.
"He was insistent that we go and get cleaned up and put our outfits on for the hall of fame," Peck said. "I didn't want to do it. I was opposed to it all the way. I was like, 'I've got to walk in high heels.' He was just like, 'let's just do it; we can get some good pictures.' I finally agreed."
But Peck did not have a clue what was really in store for her.
Once in the gym, the two took turns taking images at mid-court. Peck told O'Brien that she wished someone was there to take a photo of the two of them together, but O'Brien quietly knew it was perfect just the way it was.
"I started drawing her in a little bit," O'Brien recalled. I asked her, 'when you look around this place, what does it mean to you? She looked around and said, 'there is a lot of tradition in here and there was a lot of commitment and growth and loyalty.
"I said, 'this is a place that means a lot to you, doesn't it?' She said, 'absolutely.' I said, 'this place to me means competition, commitment and growth and all those things that you said. This is a place that moved you into your future.' Her and I share so much in common, so I got down on one knee and said, I can't think of a better place to ask you to be my wife."
Peck, of course, said yes.
O'Brien had been planning to propose for five months, and Peck's hall of fame selection could not have come at a more perfect time.
"It was going to happen regardless of the event," O'Brien said. "It just ended up being the perfect scenario.
To keep Peck from expecting a proposal would happen at Vanderbilt, O'Brien scheduled a number of trips around the hall of fame induction.
"She was totally blindsided by it," O'Brien said. "She was expecting it about a month earlier when we went to Orlando for a week and I told her to bring something really nice to wear. I set up two other engagements to go away on to kind of throw her off because I knew she would try to figure it out."
The engagement kick started an unforgettable weekend for Peck, who was one of seven individuals inducted into Vanderbilt's Athletic Hall of Fame later that evening. Peck is the fifth women's basketball player to earn hall of fame honors, joining Chantelle Anderson, Wendy Scholtens Wood, Heidi Gillingham Jackson and Sheri Sam.
"When (James) was standing there on the court and asked me what memories came to my mind when looking around, it was an overwhelming question to me," Peck said. "When you go to school at Vanderbilt, there is a lot that you take for granted. But after you complete it and look back to where you are, it has everything to do with where you are. The sell to me to come to Vanderbilt was that it would help open doors for you in the future. When I was thinking about it, it is because of Vanderbilt that has allowed me the opportunities that I had today."
Peck's unforgettable weekend continued Saturday when she was chosen to help bring the anchor onto the field before Vanderbilt's game against Austin Peay. At halftime of the game, she and the other inductees were recognized on the field.
"I dreamed about playing in college and then when I got the opportunity to dream about playing at a school like Vanderbilt and making a difference, never in a million years would you ever think that you would be inducted into the hall of fame, especially at a school like Vanderbilt," Peck remarked. "I'm really speechless when it comes to thinking about the magnitude of what an honor it is to be inducted into the hall of fame."
Overall, it was a weekend Peck will not forget. And O'Brien made sure to make a special occasion even more special with his surprise proposal on a campus and in a place that means so much to her.
"She loves Nashville, she loves Vanderbilt and she loves her family," O'Brien said. "The family was here and we were here at Vanderbilt - a place she cares deeply about and is so appreciative of. It couldn't have been more perfect."
Check back next week for a Q&A with Peck