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The sun sleeps as the desolate city streets await the morning rush hour. Driven by an inexplicable compulsion, I enter the building along with ten other swimmers, inching my way toward the cold, dark locker room of the Esplanada Park Pool. One by one, we slip into our still-damp drag suits and make a mad dash through the chill of the morning air, stopping only to grab pull-buoys and kickboards on our way to the pool. Nighttime temperatures in coastal California dip into the high forties, but our pool is artificially warmed to seventy-nine degrees; the temperature differential propels an eerie column of steam up from the water’s surface, producing the spooky ambience of a werewolf movie. Next comes the shock. Headfirst immersion into the tepid water sends our hearts racing, and we respond with a quick set of warm-up laps. As we finish, our coach emerges from the fog. He offers no friendly accolades, just a rigid regimen of sets, intervals, and exhortations.
Thus starts another workout. 4,500 yards to go, then a quick shower and a five-minute drive to school. Then it’s back to the pool; the afternoon training schedule features an additional 5,500 yards. Tomorrow, we start over again. The objective is to cut our times by another tenth of a second. The end goal is to achieve that tiny, unexplainable difference at the end of a race that separates success from failure, greatness from mediocrity. Somehow we accept the pitch–otherwise, we’d still be deep in our mattresses, slumbering beneath our blankets. In this sport, the antagonist is time. Coaches spend hours in specialized clinics, analyze the latest research on training technique, and experiment with workout schedules in an attempt to defeat time. Yet there are no shortcuts to winning, and workouts are agonizing.
I took part in my first swimming race when I was ten years old. My parents, fearing injury, directed my athletic interests away from ice hockey and into the pool. Three weeks into my new swimming endeavor, I somehow persuaded my coach to let me enter the annual age group meet. To his surprise (and mine), I pulled out an “A” time. I furthered my achievements by winning “Top 16” awards for various age groups, setting club records, and being named National First Team All-American in the 100-Butterfly and Second Team All-American in the 200-Medley. I have since been elevated to the Senior Championship level, which means the competition now includes world-class swimmers. I am aware that making finals will not be easy from here–at this level, success is measured by mere tenths of a second. In addition, each new level brings extra requirements such as elevated weight training, longer weekend training sessions, and more travel from home. Time with friends is increasingly spent in the pursuit of the next swimming objective.
Sometimes, in the solitude of the laps, my thoughts transition to events in my personal life. This year, my grandmother suffered a reoccurrence of cancer, which has spread to her lungs. She had always been driven by good spirits and independence, but suddenly my family had to accept the fact that she now faces a limited timeline. A few weeks later, on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, my grandfather–who lives in Japan–learned he had stomach cancer. He has since undergone successful surgery, but we are aware that a full recovery is not guaranteed. When I first learned that they were both struck with cancer, I felt as if my own objective, to cut my times by fractions of a second, seemed irrelevant, even ironic, given the urgency of their mutual goals: to prolong life itself. Yet we have learned to draw on each other’s strengths for support–their fortitude helps me overcome my struggles while my swimming achievements provide them with a vicarious sense of victory. When I share my latest award or triumph story, they smile with pride, as if they themselves had stood on the award stand. I have the impression that I would have to be a grandparent to understand what my medals mean to them.
My grandparents’ strength has also shored up my determination to succeed. I have learned that, as in swimming, life’s successes often come in small increments. Sometimes even the act of showing up at a workout when your body and psyche are worn out separates a great result from a failure. The difference between success and failure is defined by the ability to overcome strong internal resistance. I know that, by consistently working towards my goals–however small they may seem–I can accomplish what I set for myself, both in and beyond the swimming pool.
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You have constructed a very strong narrative that employs illustrative details and vivid imagery. This essay was a pleasure to read, and the fact that you successfully conveyed the excitement of a sport like swimming to someone who is very far removed from the world of sports (me) attests to the efficacy of your writing.
You chose a topic–sports achievement–that is innately difficult to handle because it is so common. Nonetheless, your treatment of this topic is substantively different from that of other college applicants for two important reasons. First, it sounds as if you would be an asset to any university with a competitive swimming team; second, you have succeeded in making your particular treatment of the topic unique because your essay (unlike many sports-centered essays) does not consist of a simple, monotonous list of achievements. Rather, you manage to weave your involvement with swimming into a mostly seamless narrative (I loved the werewolf movie image!).
On the other hand, the weakest point in your essay–your treatment of how swimming relates to other aspects of your life–is also directly related to your choice of topic. Structurally, this problem can be traced to the last two paragraphs. The second-to-last paragraph, in which you write about your grandparents, is a promising segue into a constructive conclusion, but you need to avoid veering into abstraction. It is essential that you show the reader how swimming and dealing with your relatives’ illnesses are directly related.
I concentrated most of my editing efforts on the last two paragraphs, but I believe that you can still strengthen these paragraphs further. Think about the following questions:
How has dealing with your grandparents’ illness affected your commitment or determination? You do a good job of showing the irony of your attempt to defeat time while your relatives try to extend it, but you should not stop there. What lesson has this taught you? Has your commitment to swimming become stronger as a result of this realization? If so, why?
In addition–and this is the overarching issue–why is your commitment to swimming relevant outside of the sports world? Do you have a similarly committed approach to other endeavors in your life? You do not want to give readers the impression that all you want to do in college is swim. Instead, you should explain why such determination is useful outside of the pool (especially in the academic realm, if you can). I integrated this idea into the last sentence of the revised essay (which I added), but be sure to personalize this point as much as possible.
In sum, by answering these questions, I believe that you can draw a multidimensional picture of your character.
Here are a few specific comments on the individual paragraphs of your essay:
“Yet, from the perspective of someone who has yet to ascend to the apex of the sport, questions create an extra burden.”
To what sort of questions are you referring? Do you mean questions of self-doubt? You need to provide more detail here to clarify your argument.
“Eminent” means “very important;” the word that denotes “in the near future” or “will happen soon” is “imminent.” (This is a common mistake.)
“Yet the fine line between total commitment and tolerance continues to present friction.”
I could not determine the exact meaning of this sentence. I have offered my best interpretation, but check to ensure that it conveys your intended idea.
Elsewhere, I concentrated my editing on micro-level adjustments. I streamlined your prose by adjusting grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and vocabulary. Many of these changes might seem subtle, but they make an enormous difference in the rhythm of your writing. Nevertheless, please read through the revision in order to verify that your intended meaning has not been altered; sometimes even tinkering with grammar can change the meaning of a passage.
The refined version of this essay polishes and compacts what is already a strong statement, and with a bit more fine-tuning to the conclusion, this essay can be truly excellent.
I wish you the best of luck in the application process.
Your EssayEdge Editor