The Oberlin Stories Project

On being a part of the Oberlin swimming and diving team

Simone Christen ’15

“[It] means becoming absorbed into a large family of people who are committed to exploring their lives athletically and academically in various ways.”

Informal team photo.

“High school will not the best years of your life.”

Upon entering my freshman year of high school, that statement was one of the first things my club coach ever told me. I was 14, just finished my first year swimming for the most elite training group of my club team — my high school didn’t have a swim team. Rules dictated that I would have to make 100 percent of all the 25 hours of practice a week, and I was not allowed to be involved in any extracurriculars other than my team. Yes, that meant no high school sports, not even swimming. Needless to say, I was a bit removed from my high school life. A lot of people who knew me didn’t even know I was an athlete!

As a result, I led a double life of sorts. At school, I was the academically focused girl that always looked tired. At practice, I was the girl “all the way from Princeton.” It was exhausting and somewhat frustrating to be juggling back and forth the responsibilities of each station and having no one who could truly relate to my plights. This issue wouldn’t effect me very much until I hit high school.

Fresh out of middle school, I didn’t really pay much mind to what my coach had said, but as high school progressed and years passed, I started to realize that I was a little different. I wasn’t the same as everyone else. Actually, despite outside appearances or similar backgrounds, no one was exactly the same as everyone else.

This is not to say that I was a misfit or that I was anything special, but I began to realize the diversity of people in the world that we live in. It was particularly enlightening and helpful, especially in the onset of college applications, and honestly, I wasn’t sure how this would impact my ability to work in the future with people with different views, values, or lifestyles than my own.

During my junior year of high school, one of my good friends (a year ahead of me) decided to go to Oberlin. I mentioned it to my parents, and they commented about the prestige of Oberlin. Curiosity sparked. I looked into Oberlin and liked what I saw. I sent in my information to the swim team in hopes of being recruited, and head coach Mark Fino connected with me and continued communicating with me throughout the summer. After a visit to campus, I knew that I wanted to continue my learning here at Oberlin.

There would no longer be a disparity between the culture of my swim team and my classmates as there was in high school. I knew that for the first time in my life I could complain to a fellow classmate about our most recent exam before practice started. I was always envious of my club teammates who went to school together, and, for the first time in my life, I would have a synthesis of classmates and teammates.

I still felt a lot of hesitation. High school was far from terrible, but how was I going to act in my new environment? How were people who could see both sides of my life going to act around me? People were going to be even more varied and different from each other now that we’re in college. Would I be able to get along with these people?

All the freshmen received e-mails from current members of the swim team over the summer, and on move-in day, I found a note on the newly installed whiteboard on my door from the captain of the men’s team inviting everyone to a some team members’ house to meet in person. Nervous and equipped with no sense of direction, I got lost looking for the house and I called the captain’s phone number, terrified. Within minutes a senior came by on his bike and walked me to the house safe and sound.

When I entered the house, surrounded by a few early returning upperclassmen and fellow nervous freshmen, I realized that all of my fears were for naught. Being on the Oberlin varsity swimming and diving team means becoming absorbed into a large family of people who are committed to exploring their lives athletically and academically in various ways.

That has continued to be the case. If you’re a biology major, then asking a teammate for help in the Science Center is second nature. If you’re in a play, you can bet that the team is going to make an appearance in the audience. If you have a piece in Art Walk, there will most certainly be swimmers milling about the art building admiring their teammates’ work. And the list goes on.

I refer to the swim and dive team as a family, not just a team, because we’re so much more than people who practice together. During the beginning of my freshman year I never had the “Where am I going to sit?” anxiety in Stevenson dining hall. That’s because there’s always a table where the swim and dive team likes to sit.

This defined for me, as a bumbling freshman, what the swim and dive team truly values: community. We may come from all different parts of the world, have completely different high school experiences, and may be studying different things, but we can still come together and explore the gaps in our viewpoints. Unlike any of my past life experiences, here, being different was okay — celebrated even.

What I’ve learned from Oberlin and our swim and dive team is that just because I’m a little different, or the fact that we’re all a little different, doesn’t mean we can’t come together. In fact, coming together despite our differences is what makes us a stronger community.