The sun is still asleep while the empty city streets await the morning rush hour. As in a ritual, my teammates and I assemble into the dank, dimly-lit locker room at the Rinconada Park Pool. One by one, we slip into our moist drag suits and then make a mad run from the locker room through the brisk morning air to the pool, stopping only to grab a pull-buoy and a kick-board. Coastal California cools down overnight to the high forties. The pool is artificially warmed to seventy-nine degrees, and the clash in temperatures creates a plethora of steam on the water’s surface, casting a scene more appropriate for a werewolf movie. Now the worst part: diving head-first into the glacial pond. I think of friends still tucked in their warm beds as I conclude the first warm-up laps. Meanwhile, our coach emerges through the fog. He offers no friendly accolades, just a stream of instructions and exhortations.
Thus begins another workout. 4,500 yards to go, then a quick shower and five-minute drive to school. Another 5,500 yards are on our afternoon training schedule. Tomorrow, the cycle starts all over again. The objective is to cut our times by another 1/10th of second. The end goal is to have that tiny 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 fast asleep beneath our blankets. Yet sleep is lost time, and in this sport time is the antagonist. Coaches spend hours in specialized clinics, analyzing the latest research on training techniques and experimenting with workout schedules in an attempt to unravel the secrets of defeating time.
My first swimming race was when I was ten years old and an avid hockey player. My parents, fearing that I would get injured, redirected my athletic direction toward swimming. 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. National “Top 16” awards through the various age groups, club records, and finally being named a National First Team All-American in the 100 Butterfly and Second Team All-American in the 200-Medley Relay cemented an achievement in the sport. Reaching the Senior Championship meet series means the competition includes world-class swimmers. Making finals will not be easy from here: these ‘successes’ were only separated from failure by tenths of a second. And the fine line between total commitment and tolerance continues to produce friction. Each new level requires more weight training, longer weekend training sessions, and more travel. Time that would normally be spent with friends is increasingly spent in pursuit of the next swimming objective.
In the solitude of the laps, my thoughts wander to events of greater significance. This year, my grandmother was hit with a recurrence of cancer, this time in her lungs. A person driven by good spirits and independence now faces a definite timeline. On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, my grandfather in Japan also contracted the disease. His situation has been corrected with surgery—for now, anyway. In the quest to extend their lives, they have both exhibited a strength that surpasses the struggles I confront both in sports and in life. Our different goals cannot be compared, yet my swimming achievements somehow provide a vicarious sense of victory to them. When I share my latest award or partake with them a story of a triumph, they smile with pride as if they themselves had stood on the award stand. I have the impression that my medals mean more to them than I will ever understand.
Life’s successes appear to come in small increments, sometimes mere tenths of a second. A newly learned skill, a little extra effort put on top of fanatical training routine, a good race day, or just showing up to a workout when your body and psyche say “no” may separate a great result from a failure. What lies in between is compromise, the willpower to overcome the natural disposition to remain the same. I know that my commitment to swimming carries on to other aspects of life, and I feel that these will give me the strength to deal with very different types of challenges.
This student employs precise and vivid details in his introduction, including an opening statement that befits the way he himself feels on his way to swim practice: “The sun is still asleep while the empty city streets await the morning rush hour.” However, he merely hints at what his passion is, using language such as “teammates,” “moist drag suits,” “and pool.” Though it is clear how much he loves his sport, as well as how successful he has been, he offers a genuine point in, “I think of friends still tucked in their warm beds as I conclude the first warm-up laps.”
The success of the essay lies in the great insight admissions officers can gain from the way the applicant discusses his activity. Statement such as “The objective is to cut our times by another 1/10th of second,” “The end goal is to have that tiny difference at the end of a race that separates success from failure, greatness from mediocrity,” and “Three weeks into my new swimming endeavor, I somehow persuaded my coach to let me enter the annual age group meet,” show that this student is committed, hard-working, passionate, detail-oriented, and proactive—all qualities admissions officers seek in future college students. He states his accomplishments with humility, not haughtiness.
The writer even goes on to explain how his swimming has meant even more to his grandmother and grandfather, who have been afflicted with cancer: “I have the impression that my medals mean more to them than I will ever understand.” The final statement (“I know that my commitment to swimming carries on to other aspects of life, and I feel that these will give me the strength to deal with very different types of challenges.”) sums up the essay’s main point nicely. Had the applicant included this language prematurely, the statement would have been much less powerful.
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