I didn’t want to swim in college. After so many years of early morning practices, missed time with friends, and countless weekends lost to swim meets I was done with it all. When I was applying to schools, I didn’t take any recruiting trips or factor swimming into my choice at all. But after taking a month off, thinking I was done forever, I realized how much I actually did want to swim. When I met with Coach Kinney at the end of my senior year, and he said it would be possible for me to walk on to the team, I jumped at the opportunity. I’m so incredibly grateful that I did.
In talking to my friends who swim at other schools, I can see how unique the CMU swim team is. The focus on academics is incredible. I’ve never felt like I’ve had to sacrifice my education in order to swim. In fact, I think being on the swim team has helped. I was taught early freshman year how to manage my time and the way to get help when I needed it. When three of my tests piled up on one day, and I texted Coach Kinney at 5:30 in the morning that I didn’t think I could make morning practice since I’d been up all night studying, he didn’t yell at me for waiting until the last minute to tell him, or berate me for not managing my time better. Instead, he offered up the solution that I make up the practice later in the day, after I’d taken my tests. When I wanted to study abroad spring semester of my junior year, he didn’t make me choose between swimming and studying abroad. None of my friends who swim at other schools have had that opportunity, which is a shame, since I would consider studying abroad and swimming the two most valuable things I’ve participated in at CMU, and I don’t think my time here would have been complete if I’d only done one or the other.
The swimming itself is extremely challenging. We’re in one of the most competitive conferences in Division III, so each year we’ve had to keep working harder to try and make it to the top. I’ve gotten so much faster, and my strategy when it comes to swimming has become much more efficient. Although each practice is still a challenge, there’s always someone on the team encouraging you to go faster.
Most people see swimming as an individual sport. And to an extent, it is. No one can swim your races for you. But when I’m on the third 50 of the 200 IM and my legs are screaming at me to slow down, my team is the reason I speed up. Because they’re the ones standing behind the lane cheering louder than the voices in my head telling me I can’t do it.
This team has been a family to me. They’re the first ones I go to with good news. If I’m upset about something, they know when to give me a hug and when to tell me to grow up. They are the ones who stay up all night with me to do homework or surprise me with coffee when I can’t focus. They are the reason I swim.
I can’t imagine what my college experience would have been like without them. My time with the team has shaped me in so many different ways, and I’m truly grateful that Coach Kinney took a chance on me four years ago when he let me walk on. I will always love my team and I will forever be proud to call myself a Tartan.