From Last-Minute Walk-On to Captain: How Babson Swimming & Diving Transformed My College Experience
I frequently reflect on my red-eye flight to Babson the night before move-in: August 27, 2015, United flight 1976 from Phoenix to Newark, and then a quick hop from Newark to Boston the morning of August 28, move-in day. I did not swim in high school, but was a swimmer for most of my childhood before taking four years off from the sport. I remember thinking vaguely on the plane that I "sort of" missed swimming. Otherwise, it was out-of-sight, out-of-mind; I had not vocalized this feeling to anyone, not even to my mom. I was coming to Babson as just another student—not a student-athlete.
During orientation weekend, I continued thinking about it and decided to email Rick Echlov, who was the coach at that time, to ask for a meeting. After hearing about my swimming background but my lack of training during high school, Rick encouraged me to walk on to the team. During that meeting, An Truong '16, who was captain my freshman year, dropped into the office and also encouraged me to join the team. So I did. On a whim, I walked on to a college varsity swim team and never looked back. A decision that I only started thinking about a few days earlier on an overnight flight changed the course of my Babson experience.
At first, I'm sure the team viewed me as just the latest walk-on, betting on how long it would take me to quit, because back in those days it was commonplace for people to "walk-on" to the team and then quit a few weeks later when they realized what a commitment it was. I was determined to prove the team wrong. It took me most of my first season to even be able to keep up with the intervals at practice, but I immersed myself with the team and they became my family. At the end of my freshman year, Rick announced his retirement, which made me very sad, as he had been a patient and encouraging coach who motivated me to swim.
However, his retirement opened the door for a truly transformative experience with current coach Kristy Martin. Under Kristy's coaching, the team was on the rise, drawing attention from coaches, administrators and athletes. We went from a team of under 20 people my sophomore year to over 30 my senior year, we set more records than I can count, and we moved up in the standings (multiple places) for the first time in many, many years. Not to mention that since my freshman year, I went from struggling to keep up at practice to being a legitimate point scorer and ultimately became captain of the team my senior year.
Swimming went from being in the back of my mind on a red-eye flight to being the center of my life at Babson in the blink of an eye. Looking back, it's gratifying to reflect on how a seemingly small decision led to such a rich set of experiences at Babson. Being an athlete at Babson has enhanced my experience in so many ways. For one, it kept me in prime physical shape, and gave me both a physical and a mental outlet to balance my academic priorities. Given that I did not participate in athletics in high school, I never knew what it was like to balance a demanding sports schedule with my schoolwork, and without a doubt, this experience in college contributed to both my academic and my professional success.
I was always busy in high school with my tutoring business, but swimming taught me how to balance my jobs on campus, my classes, and my practice schedule all at once. It showed me how to work under deadlines when I didn't have endless time to devote to an assignment and how to balance competing priorities. These are all skills that will be invaluable in the workforce, so it's no wonder that in every job/internship interview I have had while at Babson, swimming becomes a big part of the conversation. Employers are immediately impressed that my academic success is supplemented by varsity athletics because it shows them I'm a well-rounded student who succeeds under pressure.
It was a strange feeling to tell people that I was captain of the team my senior year. Never in my wildest dreams when I walked on did I think I would be a captain, but throughout my four years I naturally grew into the role. This year, being captain on a team with three seniors and fifteen freshmen was one of the most challenging but valuable experiences I have ever had. The challenges I faced and the skills I gained cannot be replicated elsewhere and will undoubtedly serve me well when I start working.
Looking back on my experience as an athlete, I would recommend without hesitation college athletics to anyone. Being on the team gave me a family, taught me how to work with different types of people and deal with conflict, and how to be mentally tough during a long, grueling season. Everything they teach us in the classroom at Babson comes to life on a college athletics team. So often, I found what we were discussing in one of my classes, such as motivation theory in Foundations of Management & Entrepreneurship (FME), was relevant to our team. Aside from the personal growth the team afforded me, I have found friendships that are closer and stronger than any I have had before. The bond forged from practicing together day-in, day-out is unique and something I have never previously experienced.
I will be forever grateful to Rick Echlov for allowing me to join the team, and to myself for the courage I had to walk on. Rick took a chance on me, and I'm now proud to say that I did prove the team wrong by not quitting. Not only did I remain on the team, but I grew into a leadership role and helped lead the team to its most successful season in recent memory.
My experience on the Babson swimming & diving team is one I will remember forever. It's funny now to reflect back on how different my time at Babson would have been had I not contemplated swimming while on my United flight on 8/27/2015. My coaches' catch-phrase for the program these last few years has become "Build the Engine". Now, four years later, I think it's safe to say, engine built.