As I packed bags and boxes and prepared for college move-in, I had no intention of participating in a club sport. I left my swim bag, swim caps, and goggles at home. Still, I folded up my favorite Jolyn suit and threw it in a box… just in case. After the first week of classes, exhausted, and feeling out of place in this new world, I needed to clear my head in the best way I knew how. I hopped on a bus and headed to the nearest sporting goods store for a cap and goggles. Later, I got lost trying to find the Curry Hicks pool, gave up on the idea, and went back to my dorm. The next day, I decided I would try open swim at Boyden. After 15 minutes of wandering the halls, I found my way to the cold, chlorinated, pool. For the first time since being on this foreign campus, I felt a sense of comfort and familiarity. Swimming felt like home.
The next day, in a spur-of-the-moment effort to spend less time alone in my dorm, I headed to the Campus Center for a UMass Club Swim (UMCS) information session. Two days later, I found myself outside the Boyden pool doors talking about what I would dispense if I were a vending machine, and running in a circle with everyone else wearing blue. By the end of the first try-out day, we had a group chat and got dinner together. I knew these were people I wanted to get to know better, even if I didn’t end up making the team.
To my surprise, I received an email at 1:21 a.m. that Thursday night with the subject line “CONGRATULATIONS!!!” I immediately shut my phone off, rolled over, and went to sleep, a weird bundle of nerves in my chest. Did I deserve this spot on the team? Why did they pick me? Would they like me? After an overwhelmingly positive experience with my high school team, I didn’t know if I could ever be close with a team in the same way again — especially so far from everyone and everything I knew.
As time passed and I attended team bonding events and practices each night, my anxieties dissolved into excitement. I learned names, majors, and favorite strokes. Dinner with the team after practice grew into lunch between classes with my new friends. “Who’s going to practice?” became “Does anyone want to hang out tonight?” Suddenly I saw my teammates in classes, walking across campus, and in the dining halls. I finally understood what the UMass pamphlets had meant by, “It’s easy to make a big school feel small.”
The morning of our first meet, falling leaves painted the campus a bright red and orange, and I grabbed breakfast with the other newbies to quiet our nerves. I don’t remember how well I swam that day, what events I raced, or what my times were. I do remember JOY. Cheering for my teammates until my voice went thin and nervously adjusting my goggles behind the block, I finally felt at home. The elation I experienced only grew when a sophomore friend and teammate asked me to be her “little” and join her swim family. Knowing that I was welcomed on this team and on this campus granted me a sense of belonging.
Between nightly practices, walks to dinner in freezing weather, overnight meets in other states, and breaking personal records, I have shared countless tears and laughter with this team. A group of people I didn’t know more than five months ago have become some of my best friends and turned UMass into my second home. To me, UMCS is more than just a club, it’s a family.
Is UMCS something that interests you? Check out the website at https://umassclubswimming.wixsite.com/umcs to learn more!