“Take your mark… go.” Throughout my swimming career, these words evoked an immense amount of anxiety but also much inspiration. Every time I heard that prompt was a new opportunity to reach that “perfect” time. As a kid, I had a hard time fitting into what I loved most: swimming.

Starting out, I was slow and felt out of place. I dove into many obstacles and nearly drowned through failure, but I persevered despite how much water filled my lungs. Swimming taught me what it means to be a leader, how to be humble, and most importantly, how to be a follower through my time in and out of the water.

During my freshman year, I qualified for the varsity swim team. But no matter how much I progressed, there would always be that little girl inside who struggled to keep up with everyone else in her lane. I dedicated myself to help junior varsity swimmers during practice and attended their competitions to encourage them. Like a water droplet falling into a pond and creating a ripple, I wanted to inspire my peers so they could further inspire others.

I aspired to challenge my teammates and classmates to work harder, knowing they had my full support. Because of my dedication to help others succeed, I was referred to teach a children’s swimming program. The most important part of my job was ensuring that each little boy and girl would grow to love swimming as much as me. By sharing my skills, I helped form their first impression of working hard to reach a goal. It became less about aiming for my own “perfect” time and more about how far I could take others.

Swimming taught me that without a goal or a motive, I would have no direction. Teenagers are mostly concerned about the events in their own lives, but I wanted to help encourage my peers to open their eyes to bigger issues. Therefore, I took a dive through student council and proposed platforms to raise awareness for issues including bullying, texting while driving, human trafficking, and domestic abuse. I helped redefine the purpose of popular school events by donating our proceeds to a variety of organizations.

Because of my leadership experience through swimming, I represented my school in an election for a position on the district board, utilizing my platform about domestic violence. In addition, swimming taught me the value of working hard if I want to perform well in school. This same theory applied for when I had to balance all Advanced Placement courses throughout my high school career. Without proper time management and swimming as an outlet for stress, my academic experience would have taken a horrendous turn.

I knew that just as I have to push through difficult currents in swimming, I have to push through balancing my rigorous classes. Time after time again, I followed the “just keep swimming” motto and pushed through to persevere through my academic struggles and turned them into amazing academic achievements.

Through victories and struggles, my athletic experiences shaped my passion to lead others on their journeys. Rather than to “take your mark and go,” I went and made my mark.