I wouldn't be who I am without Tribe Swimming.
I knew I wanted to go to William & Mary from the start of my college search. I was a good enough swimmer to walk on, but not good enough to be recruited, so I had to make a choice. Challenge myself to improve enough to walk on, or find another school where I could swim. I accepted the challenge.
Due to coaching changes over the summer before my Freshman year, I stepped on campus and the coach didn't even know who I was. I was devastated that I had worked so hard and might not even have the chance to prove myself. After a few weeks of navigating through compliance I was finally given my shot.
By the time I joined practice in mid-September, the team had already gotten to know each other and form bonds. Not only was I nervous about keeping up, but I now had social fears to contend with. Fortunately within the first few practices my fears were assuaged. I was challenging my teammates in practice, and I was welcomed as part of Tribe Swimming. I can specifically remember the moment that an upperclassmen shouted my name during practice and told me I was doing a great job and to keep it up. I was stunned to know she knew my name, but I worked harder than I ever had to prove that I was going to make our team better. That is the moment I knew I was part of the Tribe Swimming Family, and I vowed to myself that I would try to encourage others the same way.
Throughout my four years, the Tribe went through some serious ups and downs. I did my part in the pool, working as hard as I possibly could, and providing depth in the distance races (which at the time were not our forte). In a family, every member has their role that makes them valuable. In our team it was the same. I quickly learned it wasn't my 4th and 5th place finishes here and there that made me valuable to our team, but the strength and support I could provide to my teammates out of the water. I took splits for hours on end. I sat with teammates on the bus as they cried over poor performance, and encouraged them that there was always a next time. I talked to them behind the blocks when the stress of competition became too much and cheered the loudest when that fear was channeled into victory. I welcomed new swimmers to the team with the same open arms that had welcomed and encouraged me. As a senior, my teammates recognized my efforts by electing me one of our captains. It was a privilege the Freshman who walked on would have never imagined. At our final Tribe Athletics Awards event I was awarded the President’s Award in recognition of Sportsmanship, Citizenship and Leadership as a Tribe Swimmer. That accolade still hangs on my wall to this day. It reminds me that every challenge is worth it because of the person you can become along the way.
My experience was transformative. When I graduated, I knew I wanted to continue to stay involved in swimming, but I didn't know how to - or wasn't ready to make it my career. I taught for a year, but the draw to the pool deck was too strong. I knew I could continue to teach as a coach, and so that's where I've found myself for the past 14 years.
With every swimmer I coach, instructor I train, and little one I teach, I find myself using my experiences as a Tribe Swimmer as a guide. As a coach, I take pride in helping young swimmers learn about resilience and determination through their success and failure in the pool. As the Supervisor of a Swim School, I work with almost 1,000 children a week. Our students learn for safety and for the life skill that can turn into a collegiate career or a fitness activity. At both the competitive and learn to swim levels, I try to develop swimmers who are willing to take on challenges and become leaders. Ones who will go into their college practice someday to set an example with their work ethic or who will reach out to encourage a teammate through a difficult moment. I try to develop athletes who are prepared for success and failure in the pool and beyond.
When the news of the cuts broke in the swimming world, I received a message from a former co-worker. He is now coaching with a different team, but we worked together for 3 or 4 years. He said, "I consider you a mentor, and I can't imagine what my experience would be if you hadn't had the opportunities you had at William & Mary". That hit me hard. Without my experience it’s doubtful I would have gotten into coaching. I wouldn’t have been a part of all those children learning to swim. More importantly, my friend summed up what Tribe Swimming really means. Tribe Swimming leaves each of us with an experience that makes an impact. Whether we are in aquatic careers or not, when we go out into the world our experiences with the Tribe influence our actions and all of those around us.
Tribe Swimming is a family. It grows with every opportunity a student athlete is given. With every challenge that student athlete overcomes, and with every person who's life they touch, the family becomes stronger, and the Tribe impact becomes greater. It's a family I can't imagine being without and I will fight to save it. Save Tribe Swimming. One family. One fight.