The Opposite of Expectation: Swimming at Andover

There must be some reason for people to identify themselves and their Andover journeys by stating, “I am a one- (two-, three-, or four-) year senior.” Does it imply that every additional year at Andover molds their high school experience? When it is my turn to reply, I may add, “I am a four-year senior and a swimmer.”

Four years ago, Mr. Murphy met with me during revisit day, expounding on the hard truth (for which I am thankful): that at Andover, pool time would be limited and that in general, four-year boarding swimmer’s times would be negatively impacted; both cases foreshadowed my top-10 national rank slipping away and my times plateauing. The former situation proved true, especially during recruitment season Upper year. The athlete pool was unbelievably accomplished, and there were simply too many outstanding swimmers who outbalanced those lacking systematic, continuous training with “potential” to succeed in college. While I was the New England Prep School League champion in several events, I was a diminutive figure in the face of national-level competitors. Being contacted by many college coaches was gratifying and humbling, even though it was disappointing to see my name hovering around the thirtieth rank at several of my top schools’ heavily-overlapped recruiting lists.

At that moment, the reality of my decision to attend Andover hit me hard; however, thanks to Mr. Murphy, I felt neither surprise nor regret – I was prepared for this “expected” outcome. When the pressure from recruiting was reaching its zenith, I realized the key quality I had procured from my time at Andover: confidence. Confidence in applying to colleges through either academics or athletics, overcoming hardships while standing my ground and accepting reality and continuing my dream of swimming in college.

Other than my declining national ranking, all of my experiences at Andover were certainly not foreseen several years ago. I would gladly sacrifice systematic training again for my academic and athletic advancement. Also, by attempting to evade the “predictable” trap of non-continuous training at Andover – experimenting with different sports to maintain physical fitness during the off-season, adding dry-land training, exploring off-campus club swimming, analyzing stroke hydrodynamics and modeling sprinting with mathematical models gleaned from the classroom (or in general, taking risks and modifying the results for the good), I have lived life like an active experiment. During training and at meets, I have brainstormed and made on-site decisions. For example, after being perplexed by my slow times in the 50 free during most of last summer and scrutinizing my race at an NCSA meet one week before Junior National Championships, I changed my stroke technique and amazingly, dropped a second from my time the previous week.

Those spontaneous decisions are what define me. At Andover, this ability to resolve tough conundrums is nourished – due to a massive amount of homework, athletics, and extracurricular activities, everyone’s free time is limited; thus, we must constantly make decisions to arrange our life efficiently and productively. During my last New England Championships, I involuntarily participated in a mental “taper.” The night before preliminaries, I toiled arduously on my term paper and had a disappointing showing during the first day of competition, which forced me to put away academics and relax mentally for the final day of racing. Given the heavy academic loading, by foregoing an extra night of studying, I was imperiling my classroom performance for my championship swims. Another tough choice I had to make was how to approach my swims. I had a relatively better chance of winning the 50 freestyle than I had in the 100 free, which was about ten minutes after the 50. Instead of saving energy for the 100, I chose to expend all my energy in the 50 free and I betted that all my passion for swimming for Andover would carry me through the 100 free. Not only did I win both events, but I also achieved my best times. During these championships, the collective passion we had and have for swimming bound our team together and raised us to second place in the league.

That I would have a “declining” swimming career at Andover was anticipated; however, the opposite prevailed: I broke an individual event school record my freshman year, qualified for Junior National Championships lower year, was recruited by the wonderful Yale University swimming program last year and finished my swimming career at Andover with two personal best times, the prestigious New England Prep School League Robertson Award and the first rank in Connecticut girl swimmer recruitabilities. To be able to reach the opposite of the “expected” swimming as a boarder is a very rewarding experience; that is why I identify as a four-year senior and a swimmer at Andover.

_Amy Zhao is a four-year Senior from Guilford, CT. She co-captained Girls Varsity Swimming._