Swimming in Success

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For those of you who don’t know (and I can’t image there are very many out there), swimming was a very big part of the first 22 years of my life. And while the end of my swimming “career” was emotional and some what sad, I was looking forward to the end of morning practice, constantly smelling like chlorine and being able to shave my legs like a normal girl (if you are confused by that last one, don’t even ask).

My interest in swimming started at a young age, mostly (or entirely) because my older sister Abby had developed a love for the sport. Oh yeah, and she was extremely talented. Abby would win nearly every race she entered – I would be lucky to find the courage to actually dive off the block and participate in the race. I liked to practice but racing wasn’t my thing. However, with encouragement from my parents, my coaches, and my amazing older sister, I too became a pretty good swimmer. That being said, my sister’s love for the sport was always MILES ahead of mine. So, it is no surprise that after she graduated from college (after an AMAZING senior year of swimming) she decided to take that love for swimming and turn it into a career.

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After working as an assistance coach for two different collegiate teams, Abby was hired as the Head Coach for both the men’s and women’s teams at the University of Mary Washington in VA. Now in her 3rd season there, she has continued to develop a very strong program. Both teams competed in their conference meet last weekend,  both winning soundly.

A few stats from her meet for you swimming nerds (and some pictures for those of you who don’t care about the stats)!

UMW

As Abby gears up for NCAAs, I thought I would share with you an article about one of her swimmers who has a pretty incredible story, and a pretty good chance to win an event at NCAAs. Pretty impressive.

Swimming Into Success
By 

When top Division I schools courted Alex Anderson ’15 for a swim scholarship in 2006, the high school senior wasn’t ready.

Recruiters for such schools as Alabama, Arizona and Indiana universities saw a record-setting competitor who took two state titles in the 500-yard freestyle. Anderson saw a commitment to academics he wasn’t ready to make. He turned his back on school, and for a few years he lost his way – and his sport.

Alex Anderson ’15 is headed to the NCAA Championships in March.

Seven years later he’s making a name for himself as a UMW student-athlete on the Eagles swim team. In February, the sophomore was named Capital Athletic Conference Swimmer of the Year at a meet in which he broke four individual school and conference records and swam in four record-breaking relays. He’ll represent the university at the March NCAA Championships in Texas.

Meanwhile, the water helped Anderson get his life on track.

“Swimming turned into a therapeutic sport for me,” said Anderson, who studies chemistry at Mary Washington. “By this I mean every time I jump in the pool I let all my troubles and worries float away. It seems like such a natural thing for me, like something I was born to do.”

After high school in Vienna, Va., Anderson enrolled at Northern Virginia Community College, NOVA, but he wasn’t interested in school. He often didn’t show up for classes, and his grades stayed low. His mother lost a battle with breast cancer in the summer of 2007, and soon after he moved out of his father’s house.

Over the next two years, Anderson shared an apartment with roommates and worked low-wage jobs to pay the bills. He was a waiter, a cashier, a cook and a carpenter’s apprentice. He managed a company that tended potted plants in offices and supermarkets.

Anderson earned All-American honors in 2012.

It wasn’t the life he wanted. He realized he was squandering his talent and an opportunity for something better.

He talked to his father, and they formed a plan. Anderson would get serious – go back to school, bring up his grades and get back in the pool. The son moved back in with his dad, joined a club team and trained to get back in shape for competition.

Back at NOVA in spring 2010, Anderson retook several courses and signed up for something new – biology. The science class was his favorite, and he aced it. After that, he earned only A’s – grades that could get him into a four-year college.

With new confidence in his academic ability, he no longer wanted only to swim. He decided on a Division III school that would allow him the flexibility to develop his sport and his brain. The science program at University of Mary Washington had a great reputation, and it was close to home. He went for it.

Anderson talked to Eagles swim coach Abby Brethauer, was admitted by the university, and enrolled for classes in August 2011.

When he is in the lane with rivals, he changes from the carefree swimmer in training.

“I bring a different attitude to my racing and competitive swimming,” Anderson said. “I love to race. I can get competitive. I just want to win.”

Anderson and Eagles swimming were a great fit from the start. His first season, he was one of the fastest swimmers, leading the men’s team to its 12th consecutive CAC title.

He qualified for the NCAA Championships in the 50-yard freestyle, the 200-yard breaststroke and the 400-yard individual medley. In his first NCAA Championship, he gained All-America status in the 400-yard individual medley with a ninth-place finish, easily winning the consolation final.

As he heads to the NCAA Championships again this year, he’s even faster, having just broken individual school and conference records in the 100- and 200-yard butterfly and the 50- and 200-yard freestyle. His relay teams – the 200-, 400- and 800-yard freestyle and the 400-yard medley – also set school and conference records en route to the NCAAs.

“Alex has the potential not only to be the most successful swimmer in the history of UMW swimming, but also to turn what have until this point only been program goals into realities,” Brethauer said. “Not only is he a talented swimmer, he is also one of our top students – and he’s a great teammate. He is a wonderful example of what it means to be a Mary Washington student-athlete. He represents both our team and the entire department with aplomb.”

When Anderson started back to swimming, he scrutinized how he had trained, his stroke, his performance and found new ways to better old race times. He fell in love with chemistry for the challenge, too, he said. And his first quiz back with a low score, he used the same skills he uses in the pool.

“I look at what I’ve done and how I can do better. I change it. Since [that quiz], I’ve tried 10 different types of study skills,” he said. “The biggest tool for success is to be willing to try new things and be able to change. You have to look back at what you’ve done to do that. Otherwise you might change for the worse.”

 

Campus Taps

After Facebook’s worse than expected performance this week, I think everyone is a little more suspicious of internet websites and their valuation. However, I think we would all agree that even though Facebook’s stock has dropped 15 percent, their 80-90 billion dollar market value is definitely impressive. And while Mark Zuckerberg and I went to the same school, I am sad to report that I did not know him, the Winklevoss twins or anyone else involved with the creation of Facebook.

Believe me when I say, that is upsetting. While I was hanging out with my friends on the swim team, people were developing a multi-billion dollar website right next door. Well, I am not about to let that happened again – which is why I am happily promoting the newest college website out there: Campus Taps.

Matt and I both agree that the summer of 2010 was one of our best, as it was when we met the incredible Ryan Phillips. His most obvious contribution to our life are his unbelievable dance skills. In one fluid motion, he can turn a boring evening into a riotous dance battle. He gave us the gift of dance, first at Matt’s bachelor party and then during our wedding. Matt and I were so excited to share his skills with our closest friends and family!

However, while Ryan’s dance skills are impressive, we have realized very quickly that they are non-transferable (Although, he did give us a few VERY helpful pointers for our first dance; however, beyond a few spins and twirls, Matt and I are unable to replicate Ryan’s skills). But one thing that Matt has been able to replicate is Ryan’s sweet sense of style.

Ryan captured the “All American Gentleman” style with his Sperry boat shoes, J.Crew shorts and his croakies — apparently when you are a true gentleman you are always ready for yachting. Even in the middle of New York City. Matt’s (and Kinsella’s) sense of style has been fine-tuned as a result of their friendship.

And now, Ryan is applying his wealth of “bro” knowledge and sharing it with the world – while also providing a calendar of events for young “bros-in-training.”

Taken from their website, Campus Taps is described below:

“Campus Taps is a free online nightlife directory that provides access to bar events, bar and liquor store specials, and late night eats in the Baltimore-area. In addition, the site was created to be an open forum for students and young professionals to connect with their friends and favorite nightlife spots. The directory is free for businesses and users to join. Currently we are serving the greater Baltimore-area but we will be expanding to other major cities and college towns soon.”

The website had a soft launch this spring and hopes to expand to more bars and colleges next fall.

And who knows, maybe Mark will start reading Campus Taps — he really could use the advice, because let’s face it, while he may be a multi-billionaire, he is no bro. “Time to trade up those Adidas sandals for some Rainbows, bro!”


Here Come the Irish

Today is one of the best days of the year. Sadly, it also has the potential to be one of the worst.

Today, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football Team kicks off their season with a game against Southern Florida. Our hopes are high. As my favorite football coach, Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights says, we have clear eyes, full hearts and we can’t lose!

That being said, if the game doesn’t go well today, we might as well say goodbye to the rest of the season.

And now that I am legally bound to Notre Dame for the rest of my life, I am amped up. This is the team. This is the year. This is the day.

GO IRISH!

The Grass Is Always Greener

My good friend, Noelle, is defending her thesis today. She is in the 3rd year of a PhD program on her way to become a doctor of psychology. I can’t wait until she graduates and can officially diagnose all of my mental ailments.

This morning we were chatting online (per usual) and she was explaining her thesis statement to me. I pretended like I understood what she was talking about, but I really had no idea. Then I asked her what happens after she defends her thesis. Here is our conversation:

 Noelle:  then onto my next benchmark. which is a review paper.
 me:  your life sounds awesome.
 Noelle:  no. its horrible.
 me:  yeah, i was kind of being sarcastic.
 Noelle:  oh.

Sometimes the grass is greener on your side. Good luck today Noelle. While I am not jealous of your life, I am very proud of your ambition to pursue this degree. I can’t wait to call you Doctor.

ND loves NYC

This past weekend, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame took over the city of New York when their football team played the first ever football game in the new Yankee Stadium on Saturday. They took on the team from West Point and celebrated a 27 – 3 victory. And while New York is known for a lot of things, a football town is not one of them. However, Notre Dame changed that.

The weekend started with a performance by the Notre Dame band, where else, but in the middle of Time Square.

The celebration was taken out of Manhattan and into the Bronx as thousands of fans filled Yankee Stadium. The field was transformed from a baseball diamond into a football grid iron for the occation.

The game ball was delivered by members of the special ops as they parachuted out of a plane and into the stadium. One carried the ball, another an American flag and a third, the flag of Notre Dame.

The half time show, performed by the band, was incredible.  Unfortunately, I can’t find a good video that captures just how impressive the show was; you will have to take my word for it.

The only thing that can top this game will be the Notre Dame vs. Navy game in 2012 held in Dublin, Ireland.

GO IRISH!



Happy Birthday from Your Friends

I have blogged about, or at least mentioned, Dunkin Donuts in 8 of my previous posts. Clearly I have a strong love for this company.

It makes me laugh because Abby (my sister) has a serious love hate relationship with Dunkin Donuts. While she likes their vanilla chai tea, she used to date a boy who worked at Dunkin Donuts. She first started dating this boy her senior year in college. After graduation she moved to upstate New York to coach swimming at Hamilton College. She tried to break it off with this boy countless times, but he was blinded by his love. He moved to upstate New York to be near her and when he couldn’t get a job, decided to settle for a position at Dunkin Donuts. He would work during the day and come over to visit Abby after work. When she first told me this, I thought “wow, that is awesome. Free donuts and coffee delivered to your door.” What I didn’t account for was the fact that the smell from Dunkins lingered on his clothes and would fill her apartment. Soon, she was bathed in the sweet smells of donuts and coffee. Apparently, this is NOT something that you want your apartment to smell like day in and day out. Unfortunately for Abby, she had totally captivated this boy’s heart, which was realized fully when he gave her “the deed to his heart” for her Birthday that year (yeah, I can’t make that kind of stuff up). No matter how much disgust she expressed for his odor (and eventually just for him in general), he wouldn’t go away. He was like a lost puppy.

Thankfully, Abby was finally able to end things with this boy. I am not sure how she did it… He was like a child who had to be told “no” over and over before he fully grasped the concept. I have a theory about this boy, but I will save that for another time… (don’t worry Abby, I won’t embarrass you THAT much) He eventually found a girl (now his wife and mother of his child) who appreciated his unmatched loyalty and devotion. It is worth mentioning though that she didn’t have to deal with his Dunkin Donuts “cologne”… however I don’t think that was the only thing Abby had taken issue with…

Thankfully, my relationship with Dunkins has always been a positive one. And now, we are taking our relationship to the next level. I received this early Birthday present in the mail last week. If this isn’t true friendship, then I don’t know what is. I can’t wait to use it one day on my way to work!

Thank you friends at Dunkin Donuts, for not only remembering my Birthday without the aid of Facebook, but also for the sweet present!

The Lottery

When I was younger, I never really thought about where I was going to enroll in school. In the earlier years, I went to the nursery school that Abby had attended in our neighborhood. It was run out of someone’s basement, which seems a little weird, but we didn’t think anything of it at the time. Kindergarten at that point in time wasn’t something that our public school system offered so I attended a program (that I later taught at) that was run out of an old barn that had been converted into a small 4 room school. From 1st grade to 12th grade, I attended our local public schools. My education was something that I took for granted.

While it was certainly something that was important to my parents and eventually to me, it wasn’t something that we worried about. I knew that I was going to get a solid education at school, have amazing teachers and extremely supportive parents. To be frank, going to college was always in the cards for me. That was how I was brought up and what I wanted in life.

When I got home from work today, I watched the movie, The Lottery. I had heard about this movie a while ago, and even received the DVD at a charity event I attended last Spring, but I am embarrassed to say that I never got around to watching it. The movie follows four families from Harlem as they go through the lottery process to get their children into one of the Success Academy Charter Schools.

I first learned about these schools when I moved to New York. I didn’t have a job, so my friend graciously hired me to help teach some of her cooking classes for her newly formed company, Cupcake Kids (now named Taste Buds). She had organized 10-15 field trips for the Kindergarten classes from the Success Academy schools. Every morning for a couple of weeks, we would teach 25-27 5 and 6-year-olds, all dressed in navy and orange uniforms, how to make pizza. We talked about the different ingredients, explained how yeast gives off gases (like a bump) that expands the dough, sang a song about making pizza and eventually ate delicious and healthy food that we made together.

During the time that I spent with these kids, I learned that their grade was not referred to as Kindergarten; they were called the class of 2025; the year that they would graduate from college. Their individual classes weren’t named after their rooms or their teachers’ last names; they were named after the colleges that their teachers attended. So every day, in would walk the classes of Brown, University of Virginia and Princeton. These kids know, like I did, that they are going to graduate from college.

Harlem Success Academy 3rd graders took their first standardized state test in 2009. The results are staggering:

  • 100% of Harlem Success 3rd graders passed the math exam, with 71% achieving the top score of “4,” ranking the school #1 out of all public charters in the state.
  • 95% of Harlem Success 3rd graders passed the English Language Arts exam, with nearly a quarter achieving the top score of “4,” ranking the school #2 out of all public charters in the state. Harlem Success Academy ranks #32 out of 3500 public schools in New York.
  • No public school in the state scored higher than Harlem Success on the math exam. Harlem Success outperformed its school district by nearly 25 percentage points in English Language Arts.
  • The percentage of students “advanced proficient” in math surpasses even the affluent Upper East Side of Manhattan by nearly 35%.

In short, this school’s approach is working. While charter schools do raise a lot of concerns, often over teacher unions and conflicts with failing public schools, it is hard to overlook their achievements. I would strongly encourage people to watch this movie. While Waiting for Superman is receiving a lot of support and media attention, this movie delivers a message that is just as strong. We need to rethink our educational systems; we can not accept failure because we are afraid to change.