Aug. 29, 2012
By Sam Hovland, ND Athletic Media Relations
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - When Ryan Koter was 12 years old, he fractured and dislocated his elbow during a gymnastics practice. With the possibility of re-injuring his arm even more seriously - or permanently - very real, going back to gymnastics was out of the question.
So Ryan became a diver.
When Koter was in high school, he was traveling back to Pittsburgh from a Chicago band trip when the bus stopped at Notre Dame - on a Sunday - so students could attend Mass. Straight to the Basilica they went, where Koter, in his first visit to campus, was awestruck by the sounds of the Notre Dame Folk Choir coming from its traditional second-tier loft.
So Ryan went to Notre Dame. And joined the Folk Choir.
Put the two together, and Koter's final year as an Irish student-athlete will include a trip to Ireland with a portion of the Notre Dame Folk Choir for performances at O2 Arena, historic St. Mary's Church, Dublin Castle and other locations as part of festivities surrounding the Notre Dame's football opener in Dublin on Sept. 1.
"It'll be neat to be a part of such a special event for the University and for the team. To be there and to be part of it, I feel very lucky and fortunate," said Koter, the lone Notre Dame student-athlete currently in the Folk Choir.
So was it simple chance that the injury occurred when it did, or that the bus stopped at Notre Dame, or that the Folk Choir was singing when the band members stepped into the Basilica? Was it fate, destiny? However you look at it, Koter will be forever grateful that things played out the way they did.
"I don't know if it's fate, but I've definitely been fortunate. I always think that if I hadn't had that injury, would I have stuck with gymnastics? Would I have never taken up diving? Never have come to Notre Dame? Never have had the experiences and met the people I have? And of course, my Notre Dame experience has been incredible, as most people's are."
Koter's ND experience actually didn't start out with the Folk Choir in mind. Koter focused on diving and academics his freshman year, but soon realized that a part of that experience was absent.
"I come from a pretty musical family, and not having that my freshman year, I felt like something was missing. After hearing the Folk Choir sing again at Sunday liturgies, I just knew that if it could fit with my diving schedule, I would have to get involved. I'm glad I did, because it's been a really great experience and I really enjoy it."
In addition to the occasional solo with the Folk Choir, Koter can also be heard singing the national anthem now and again - at his own swim meets. After which, of course, Koter makes his way to the diving board to earn points for his Irish squad. This year Koter is the lone senior among the divers, a bunch that includes an impressive quartet of sophomores in John Andrade, Michael Kreft, Nick Nemetz and Ted Wagner. Nemetz swept the 1- and 3-meter events at the BIG EAST Championships last season, becoming the first Irish freshman to accomplish the feat, while Kreft took fourth in the 1-meter and third in the 3-meter.
It's a bit of a change from Koter's first two years on campus, when he was able to study under 2011 graduates Nathan Geary, Eric Lex and Wesley Villaflor, one of the top classes of divers in Notre Dame history. But with Koter now the elder of the group, the future is still bright.
"It's definitely different now. When I came in, the juniors [Geary, Lex, Villaflor] on the team were incredible, and I had never dived with a team that good. Then after they graduated, we had a big group of freshmen and it was a big change. Yet they've stepped right up to the plate and filled the gap. The talent is again very high."
The 2011-12 campaign was a bit of a down year for Koter himself, who took sixth and fifth, respectively, at the 1- and 3-meter events at the 2010 BIG EAST Championships as a freshman but has been unable to eclipse those finishes in subsequent years. With one year of collegiate diving still ahead, Koter has adopted a new mindset in his final go-around with the Irish, one he hopes will make the last year on campus a fruitful one, both in the pool and out.
"I usually put a lot of pressure on myself as a diver. But this season, after however many months, I'll be a retired diver. And I could have the best season of my life or the worst, and either way it'll be over," said Koter. "So I am going into this season with the mentality just to enjoy it and have fun. There's no reason to put so much pressure on myself. That's completely unnecessary. And sometimes when you put the least pressure on yourself, you do the best."
As if the demands of diving and singing in front of large crowds weren't enough, Koter also holds down an arduous double major in science pre-professional and French. Where does that take Koter? Possibly a year of service (maybe in a French-speaking country), possibly physical therapy school after that. But he's "still deciding," Koter explains with a laugh. After all, one only gets to be a senior at Notre Dame once.
"The plans are all tentative," says Koter. "I definitely want to make the most of my time while I'm still here."
For Koter and the Folk Choir contingent, the time for the Ireland venture will begin with a flight out on Wednesday, Aug. 29. When they land in Dublin at 7:30 a.m. local time on Thursday, they'll go straight to - what else? - a Mass. Where Koter will once again be dazzled by the sounds of the Notre Dame Folk Choir. Only this time, he'll be right in their midst. And also in the midst of a piece of Notre Dame history.
He wouldn't have it any other way.
"It'll be a whirlwind of a trip but I'm ecstatic to be going. I'll certainly never forget it."
The first stop for the Notre Dame Folk Choir in Ireland will be a Mass for the Alliance for Catholic Education Advisory Council in the town of Maynooth on Thursday morning. On Friday, a portion of the traveling contingent will be singing at a Mass for the Irish Advisory Council at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin, while the whole group will be set to perform - alongside Notre Dame cheerleaders and the Band of the Fighting Irish - at the "Notre Dame: A Welcome Home" event at the popular O2 Arena in Dublin Friday evening. Other notable stops for the Folk Choir include a performance at the Dublin Castle prior to the game on Saturday, a President's VIP Mass at the Merrion after the game (at which Koter and a small portion of the choir will be singing) as well as the Pilgrim's Mass at St. Mary's Church at Haddington Road on Sunday morning.
While the football team will be playing for just the second time ever in Ireland (a 54-27 win over Navy at Dublin's Croke Park in 1996 was the other), trips across the pond to the Emerald Isle for the Notre Dame Folk Choir are not so uncommon. After the group's first tour in Ireland in 1988, the Folk Choir has since returned nine times, including a 2012 tour following the spring semester that also included stops in Scotland (a tour Koter was unable to attend due to prior commitments). The choir typically tours either internationally or within the nation at the end of the spring semester each year, going to California (2011), Texas (2011), the Tidewater region of America (2010; stops in Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia) and the Mississippi River Valley (2009) in recent years.
The Notre Dame Folk Choir also puts on an annual concert following a home football game and can be heard during the 11:45 a.m. Mass at the Basilica every Sunday during the academic year.