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My Immigration Story - Chapter 3

Updated: Mar 19, 2023

September 08, 2015.

I learned what my swimming schedule was going to be like. Monday to Saturday we had a 6:00-8:00 AM morning practice and a 3:15-5:15 PM evening practice (Wednesday and Saturday we have no evening swim).

Six in the morning swim practice... This means I needed to be on the pool deck at 5:30 AM which means getting up at 5:05 AM which means that (to get 8 hours of sleep) I needed to be in bed by nine. Phew. I never had to get up this early for swim practice before. I was struck by the fact that this is the schedule I am going to participate in for the next four years of my life...

I also learned what my school schedule is going to be like. Which helped because I immediately planned my napping schedule in it. Thinking about it now, I am mostly shocked by my ability to finish class at 1:30 PM, eat lunch, take an hour's nap, and be on the pool deck on time for a 3:15 pm practice. Speaking of efficiency...

On Sep 09 at 6 AM we had our first unofficial workout. It was not mandatory but everyone showed up. I think it's an unspoken rule that "Optional practices" are not at all optional. Previously in my career, the first workout of the season was always fun. An easy, light workout with a fun game too, a true "ease back in" type of feeling. This was not the case here.

In one hour we swam 4 KM on a long-course 50M pool. It included intense kicking sets and aerobic sets all on hard intervals (which I normally do mid-season). I was the last one, and I was surprised by it. I knew aerobics is a weakness of mine (being a die-hard sprinter), but I wasn't prepared to be embarrassed on the very first workout. When I got lapped by the first person in the lane, I thought "this is bullshit, how's everyone else keeping up?"

This workout was so tough, I felt disassembled. When I got out of the water I told the coaches to please not judge me based on this workout alone. They laughed and told me not to worry about it. But I was worried, mostly I was overwhelmed. My first college workout was a 6 am on a Wednesday and it was not what I envisioned. Writing this now, having completed thousands of other college swim practices, I still think of this workout as my introduction to American sports. Americans, as athletes, are beasts.

When it comes to international student-athletes (or student-athletes on a full scholarship like me), there were two types—those that swim to study, and those that study to swim. I mean, there are those that put swimming as their priority and do schooling as an add-on. And then there are those that care most about school, and the fact that they swim helps them pay for it.

I never thought about swimming as a job, but I respect that for some people, the time and effort they put into the sport pays for their academic degree. I mostly felt grateful for the opportunities for both worlds to be organized for me by the system. School and swimming supported each other in perfect harmony. Both fitted in my life and made so much sense. I had my coaches, I had my professors, I had my academic advisor, I had my dorm room, and a swim/school schedule that was orchestrated for me. I also had my team picked for me. A predetermined set of people to call friends. My life as a freshman international student-athlete was packaged by someone else. All I had to do was show up and do my best. It was a great sense of purpose.

My meals were arranged too. I had a swipe card to credit for two meals a day on campus, it worked on any one of the food courts around campus (even the Starbucks!). I noticed that most of the food places on campus were sandwich shops. I used to think that sandwich is not a meal.

With this amount of systematic support, it was hard to imagine anyone not succeeding. As freshmen, we also had to register for 10 hours a week at the library. We had a little scan barcode to swipe in and out. I thought it was annoying at first, I didn't need to be babysat into studying, but I guess some do. In the end, it was a blessing in disguise.

When you swim, eat, live, and study with the same people in the same places, you get to know them quickly. We also got to spend a lot of time together as a team, not swimming, but sitting in a large sitting area in the rec and listening to our coaches talk about stuff. The main coach's name was "coach". That's it. No first or last name. I was intrigued by that. People called the coach "coach" to his face, and behind his back. He was always referred to as "coach", and not just by the swimmers - by the other coaches too. It was a great sign of respect.

The second workout rolled around. It was dryland. I did not perform much better. 15 Dibs and 10 pullups times 4. Some jumping, some running, some abs, and lots of power exercises. Yikes! I had to tell myself, it's different here - they test you mentally, and it's a different method of getting in shape. "Americans do sports better than any other country in the world," I told myself, they must know what they are doing.

I signed up for this.


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