Hawk swimmers boast tigerhawk tattoos

BY BEN ROSS | NOVEMBER 17, 2011 7:20 AM

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In most sports, spectators are able to discern who the athletes are by looking at their numbers.

Swimming isn't one of those sports. A good way to tell many of the men's swimmers apart, then, is to look at their skin — specifically, at their tattoos.

Ten of the 31 swimmers on Iowa's roster have tattoos, the vast majority of which are the school's Tigerhawk logo. Most of the ink can be found on the athletes' upper backs, shoulders, or in some daring cases, the ribs.

The art carries special meaning to some of the swimmers, but they are nothing more than an expression of Hawkeye loyalty to others.

Not all of the swimmers can pinpoint exactly why they were so compelled to mark their bodies; junior Jordan Huff said he thinks the answer is as simple as the team's uniform, or lack thereof.

"I don't exactly know why swimmers get tattoos," the All-American said. "It's probably because we're always kind of out there — we don't wear a lot of clothing when we swim. I don't know why it is, but we all just seem to do it."

Huff has three tattoos: One of the Tigerhawk, one of the logo of his club swimming team — the Dubuque Area Swimming Hurricanes — and one that contains a heart among another pattern, something he says is private and means something to his family.

"I didn't really plan on getting any tattoos," he said. "Then I just got here and saw the environment, and it just seemed like the right thing to do, to get the Hawkeye one. And I thought, 'Why not get a couple more?' "

The tattoos aren't limited to just Hawkeye swimmers, though. All the teams they have faced this year have swimmers who showcase body art. Like Iowa, they mostly are the logos of their respective schools.

The ink may be something specific to Big Ten schools, though. Hawkeye assistant swimming coach Kirk Hampleman, who swam at Auburn from 1998-2002, said his college team partook in a less permanent form of expression.

"Tattoos weren't really our thing," the nine-time All-American said. "I think the younger guys get tattoos to sort of emulate the older guys on the team. It's one way to show you're a part of your team; it's a way to express yourself. The University of Tennessee, and Georgia, those guys definitely had their tattoos; it just wasn't a part of something we did.

"We actually dyed our hair before our meets. That was sort of our team thing; every team does something."

Head coach Marc Long said the tattoos are getting more and more common as years pass, and that it's a good way for his swimmers to express themselves — even though he doesn't necessarily condone the practice.

"I think they're just proud of their school," Long said. "They've chosen to show it in their way. I don't think our guys are persuaded to get a tattoo; there are plenty of upperclassmen who don't have them, either. I think it's a personal choice, [and] I certainly don't encourage it. It's something they chose to express themselves."

The coaches and majority of swimmers maintained they don't pressure new teammates to get tattoos once they arrive on campus, but it's hard to argue there's no urge to ink up once an athlete sees his teammates proudly don the Tigerhawk as a badge of honor.

Sophomore Dustin Rhoads said he did in fact feel some pressure from his peers, even though he knew his parents wouldn't exactly approve.

"I'm attending Iowa, and it's permanent, it's going to be on my back forever … It's become a tradition now," the Ames native said. "It means a lot to me, Everyone seems to want to get one, because it shows we have a lot of pride for the university.

"My parents are Iowa State fans, and they were a little reluctant at first, but they told me to do what I want … they're over it now."

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