Last week, I received news that felt like a punch in the gut. William and Mary had decided to cut Men’s and Women’s Swimming, as well as 5 other accomplished and storied athletic programs. There is no way I could concisely describe what Tribe Swimming has meant to me and many others; in fact, this program has such a history and culture as to make these actions nearly ineffable.
It is without exaggeration when I state that I would not be the person I am today without Tribe Swimming. My time as a member of Tribe Swimming has given me so, so much—it introduced me to the love of my life, brought together an amazing group of friends whom I consider family, and allowed me to gain absolute wealth of experience that I will carry with me for the rest of life. I am not just referring to the grueling workouts in the dead of winter, nor the long bus rides, the nerve wracking relay finishes, the highs of CAA champs, the lows; nor am I referring to the lazy dinners at our house, the weekend parties, the sunny spring days, summers at College Creek. There are transcendent experiences beyond even those. For me personally, it was with the unwavering support of my teammates and coaches that I was able to claw my way back from the lowest and most frightening portion of my life. They were there to guide me with every misstep, to encourage me when I was emotionally crushed, and inspired me to believe in myself when I truly had every reason not to. It was with these amazing people that I marched in lockstep into the next and brighter days ahead of me.
I believe that experiences similar to mine are not at all unique to me; rather, becoming a member of Tribe Swimming provides the opportunity for these types of experiences, growth, and relationship formation. It is part of what makes tribe swimming so special. For the current and future swimmers, you are all owed the same opportunities I was afforded—to enter into environment where not only are you able to push yourself academically and athletically, to hone skills that will help you to become a better person, to gain unforgettable and treasured memories, and most importantly to gain friends and family that will be near and dear to you for the rest of your life. Those of us who have travelled down it must keep this avenue open, because to deprive current and future swimmers of this opportunity is akin to criminal, and is antithetical to the purpose an institution such as W&M is supposed to serve.
The current AD had it made it clear from day 1 of her employment that her goals were to give as much resources as possible to sports that made the most money for the institution. She explicitly stated her goals as such. Since then, we have felt the weight of the target has placed on our backs (and the team has risen to new heights regardless). Now, she is using a global pandemic as a smokescreen to execute this dirty work without warning, stating that it has/will deprive(d) the athletic department of the funds necessary to sustain our unparalleled success- despite record breaking fundraising over the past several years, and much evidence to the contrary. (Especially as an Emergency Medicine resident physician on the front lines of COVID-19, I struggle to say how much her using this as a scapegoat for her malicious actions pains and angers me). But this person does not have our experience, our shared history; they came in as a transient hire without any knowledge at all of Tribe Swimming. She knows nothing of our traditions. She has not even shown her face at any of our meets. As she looks toward her inevitable future away from Williamsburg, she does not anticipate giving a second thought about her actions. To her, we are simply abstractions on a piece of paper, to be manipulated to meet whatever arbitrary metrics she has in mind for her own purposes. We are not living, breathing student athletes and alumni who embody the great tradition of Tribe Swimming. It is this thoughtlessness and carelessness that does an unspeakable disservice to the many, many swimmers and coaches who have BUILT that tradition through their sweat and their tears, their success and failures. But we as members of the Tribe Swimming family will never forget what unites us, and we are far, far stronger because of it.
To the current swimmers and coaching staff, know this: we will not go down easy. We have your back 100%, and we will not stop fighting this. I am pleased to say that our wonderful group of alumni is mounting a tremendous defense of what we all know and love. To all my friends who have read this, thank you for your time, and for understanding our pain. Please reach out to me if you have any questions about this. And lastly, PLEASE consider making a pledge to help save Tribe Swimming.
K.J. Shaw, MD
William and Mary Class of ‘13