Looking back on my first season as a walk-on diver keeps me up at night. Literally, I'm writing this at 3AM on a Thursday morning. Maybe it's the lack of physical exhaustion after 6AM lifts and 6PM practices that's keeping me up, or maybe it's the overlooked, unresolved feelings I've successfully, until now, been able to smooth over by that overwhelming in-season pressure to "keep going, don't stop and don't look back."
It's been about seven months since I started diving, and I feel like a completely different person, yet, at the same time, I've felt more like myself. Before coming onto the Swim/Dive team, I was pretty aimless. Satisfied enough to not transfer, but not truly happy either. All the Kenyon advertising of students saying how much Kenyon feels like home to them and how much they adored their Kenyon experience just seemed like a load of PR crap to me.Sure, freshman year is kind of a toss up. You can either successfully fall into a group of people you click with, or, if you were like me, stumble your way in and out of friendships. When I told my mom I was unhappy at Kenyon, she told me "Well you're not there to make friends. You're there to study and graduate, so you can get a job after college," which is the kind of predictable Asian-immigrant mom thing to say that gives me a lot of angst and drives me to see Dean Hoi Ning Ngai on a semi-regular basis. Anyway, that type of "grit your teeth and just get through college for the sake of getting a good job" is NOT why I came to Kenyon. I came to Kenyon because I drank the small-liberal-arts kool-aid and because I believed I could be like one of those happy kenyon students on my thumbs-up packet grinning behind the words "You will."
I never had any intention of joining the diving team, or any collegiate varsity team for that matter. And, frankly, I didn’t know we had a dive team until the assistant Swim coach told me I should look into the dive team after we struck up a conversation at the KAC in which I told him how I use to do competitive cheerleading in high school. I took his invitation and sat in on one of the dive team’s practices. I sat with Andy, the coach, and watched as the team jumped, spun and dove into the water, not always with impeccable grace but with undoubtable fearlessness nonetheless. I was captivated. Hooked. It was then, I decided to sell my soul to NCAA.
You know those scenes in TV shows where the cocky, naive character looks at something and decides, “I can do this. How hard can it be?” and then tries it and gets their ass handed to them? Yes, that was me. But my ass wasn’t the only part of me that got whipped; almost every area of my body has been cherry red from smacking the water at some point. The whole season was an exercise in trying not to smack the water or the board and pushing myself to get back on the board if I was unsuccessful at doing so. It was six months of learning how to jump/dive into the water and over mental barriers.
For me, the toughest mental barrier was not throwing my 5’1 110lb body off of a three meter diving board—even after a brutal smack, but, rather, accepting the idea that I will never, in my college diving career, be at the same level as my teammates who have been diving since they were in grade school. Comparing myself to others, setting unrealistic expectations, and caring too much of other people’s opinions of me took the fun away from diving and replaced it with anxiety and dissatisfaction.
Overtime, I learned to set aside those anxieties and dive for myself. Going to see an athletic counselor helped, learning how to redirect negative thoughts helped, my coach’s words of encouragement framed by his comforting Arkansas accent helped, but what helped me get through the season the most was the incredible community of divers, both inside and outside of my own team.
It was the booming claps every diver gets after making a gnarly smack on the water. It was Ryder’s dance moves on the pool deck. It was dancing to Mean Girls’ Jingle Bell Rock with my teammates. It was hilariously getting lost with Carnegie Mellon's dive team after hitch-hiking a ride up from the KAC. It was all the times Derek and I tried to hide in the hottub during practice in the hopes that Andy would forget about us. It was Rachel’s, a Junior walk-on diver at Oberlin, hug at Conference after I failed my first dive on the three-meter board that gave me the confidence to continue, drive me to improve and made me fall in love with this sport I didn’t even know existed at Kenyon.
While I mourn the end of my season by eating Velvet's Fudge Raspberry Cordial ice cream, I have to say, joining my team was the best decision I've ever made, and I truly do feel like Kenyon's my home now because I have a family of people who supports me, pushes me and shamelessly dances with me. That is my glowing testimonial of my Kenyon experience this far. This is also my pitch to become the new face of the thumbs up packet behind the words "You will." Fingers crossed, everyone.