Hee-Jin Chang ’05 grew up in Seoul, South Korea before enrolling at Andover in the fall of 2001. At the age of 14, Chang competed at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, as the youngest swimmer on South Korea’s team.
Chang decided to apply to Andover to expand her limited athletic and educational options in South Korea.
“In South Korea, it’s very black and white. We have to decide at an early age whether we wanted to be athletes, whether we wanted to go to school, and if we decided to go to school, did we want to be engineers, or did we want to be liberal arts majors. I just didn’t want to be as restricted as I may have been had I stayed back in Korea,” said Chang.
At Andover, Chang set school records in nine of the 11 swimming events, two of which still stand today in the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard freestyle. Chang went on to swim at the University of Texas at Austin and competed at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing for South Korea, where she finished in thirty-first place with a time of 25.59 seconds and 32nd place with a time of 55.96 seconds in the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard freestyle, respectively.
According to Chang, she faced many challenges at Andover as she transitioned from swimming year-round to just a few months out of the year during Winter Term. In the fall and spring, Chang picked up water polo and crew to help her stay in shape for swim season.
“I remember having a conversation with both Martha Fenton and Mike Kuta about what I should do. [They both] said the same things: ‘Have you ever tried rowing?’ and ‘Have you ever tried water polo?’ ‘How do you know if you’re going to like that better than swimming, or if you’re going to be better at it than swimming? You never know until you try.’ I think having an open mind to options was a great opportunity for me,” said Chang.
Trying new sports helped Chang develop a new perspective on swimming and also helped her relieve outside stress.
“It lessened the burden of being good at what I’m supposed to be good at. Being branded as a swimmer is positive, but at the same time it’s also a lot of pressure on someone. I wasn’t only Hee-Jin the swimmer, I was also Hee-Jin the rower, and I was also Hee-Jin the water polo player,” said Chang.
Although Chang initially struggled with the additional training at the University of Texas, she credits Andover with providing her with a positive mindset that helped her transition into college swimming.
Chang said, “The great thing about being a swimmer at Andover was that I could still swim my best time by swimming one trimester of the year. How much yardage you swim isn’t going to define the kind of swimmer you’re going to be. It’s not about quantity, it was about quality. That really helped me with my first year of swimming training at Texas because it was a huge change.”
Head Coach Paul Murphy ’84 said, “Hee-Jin’s speed, technique and mental toughness inspired her teammates and, frankly, many other swimmers across New England. She was so far ahead of everyone in the league that some coaches would record her races so that they could use those recordings as practice tools. She showed her teammates how hard work and determination could result in amazing races.”
Chang believes that focusing on having fun and training to become better is actually the key to success, rather than focusing on numbers.
“I think if you really focus on how you feel when you’re moving through the water and how your kick feels… you actually get to have more fun and that record will be broken,” said Chang.
Chang said, “I’d say yes, break the records, but don’t let that be the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal should be to become a better athlete and student. Records are there to be broken. That’s why they’re up there. If anybody wants advice on how to break my records, please call me, text me, or email me. I’d be happy to help in any way.”