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Terry Freerks, Ph.D. (BA 1977, MEd 1979)

If swimming is moving meditation, as Cesar Nikko Caharian once said, then University of Missouri–St. Louis graduate Terry Freerks is a Zen master of the water. Terry, who was born and raised in St. Louis’ Central West End, has spent a lifetime swimming after her initial introduction to the sport by her father when she was just 4 years old. Terry would go on to become a national record holder as a competitive youth swimmer, one of the longest-tenured women’s swim coaches in the U.S., and a successful organizational leader and counselor – learning a lot about herself along the way, including how to overcome mistakes and passing those lessons along to her students and clients.

Terry Freerks

“As a mental health practitioner, a competitive swimming coach and a CEO, I focused my career on facilitating health, well-being and an enhanced quality of life for my clients’ athletes and staff,” she said. “My UMSL education ignited and guided me throughout the course of my journey.”

At UMSL, Terry earned a BA in history in 1977 and an MEd in 1979. She went on to earn a PhD in counseling from Saint Louis University. While in college, she first started coaching with her former club team, the Tideriders, working her way up to the rank of head coach and eventually to the club’s executive director, while building a career as a licensed professional counselor. Terry has never forgotten UMSL’s role in preparing her for success, giving back freely of her time through the years through various campus positions including the Chancellor’s Council and the College of Arts and Sciences Leadership Council.

"UMSL taught me independence of thought and provided me with all the academic tools I needed to pursue my passion and chart my career," she said. "My most powerful UMSL experiences resulted from interactions with the outstanding faculty who challenged me to think outside the box and nurtured my confidence and resolve to contribute to others."

Terry and her husband Stan are recipients of the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award. They also received the E. Desmond and Mary Ann Lee Medal for Philanthropy in 2016 after becoming the first couple to pass the $5 million milestone in philanthropic gifts to the university.

"It goes back to enhancing quality of life and creating opportunities," she said of their support of UMSL. "If people are educated, then they have more opportunities and they are able to recognize them better."