By Brooke Raab, a junior captain on the St. Mary's College of Maryland women's swim team
My experience here at St. Mary's thus far has been one heck of a ride. Finding a school that fit exactly what I wanted seemed impossible until I came here. In my head, I thought swimming at a Division III school would be fun, but I never thought I would get faster. My coaches, Andre Barbins and Julio Zarate, told me there was no way I would not improve at this school, and they were right.
The team dynamic was so different than anything I had ever experienced. I was worried the academics would be too challenging for me, especially with swimming. My first semester was a little rough, but I had a ton of support from my friends and coaches. They helped me in any way that they could, and were always reliable. My first semester at St. Mary's was especially memorable because I was one of the students that actually lived on a cruise ship for two months! Overall, I love the size of the school and the fact that St. Mary's is such a tight and welcoming community.
This past year in particular was a roller coaster ride. I was honored to be a team captain in my junior year. The season started out great, and then in November, my roommate and teammate, Elaina Kohles, and I were in a serious accident. It was a head-on collision which resulted in pretty bad injuries. Elaina had her face and knees bruised, and I separated a joint in my shoulder. Thankfully, Elaina was able to compete in meets and slowly got back into practice a week after the accident. My shoulder took about a month and a half to heal, so I was only able to do lower body exercises. If I did not have the support from my team, coaches, friends, and family, I would have given up and tried to get better the following season. Many people told me that it was okay to try again next season and to let my body heal, but as soon as I got the OK from the doctor that I could start swimming again, I knew I was going to prove I could still do it.
I was determined to swim and go best times at my championship meet. Elaina pushed me every day not to give up, and seeing her swim made me want to get back in the water that much sooner. Our training trip in January was the first time that I was able to train with the team since the accident. My teammates pushed me to my limits and Andre and Julio kept me motivated. February rolled around and I still was not sure I would get back to my best times. Surprisingly, I swam my first event and got right around my lifetime best. After seeing that I was strong enough to do that, I just went for it the rest of the weekend. I went best times by two seconds in my events. I was able to get an NCAA B cut in the 400 individual medley and broke my school record in the 200 breaststroke.
Touching the wall after all of my events and looking up at the clock made me realize that if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything. The support from my community and my coaches really helped me mentally, and having a good attitude I believe helped me heal faster. I went from not being able to take a single stroke without shooting pain in my chest to swimming as fast as I ever had before. Seeing those results at the championship meet is a feeling I will never forget, and if I hadn't chosen to come to a Division III school, I wouldn't have had that same experience. Being a part of this community is a privilege, and I am thankful every day for that. I have met some great people, and have had experiences of a lifetime that I would not get anywhere else. I am looking forward to next year, determined to get an All-America award for academics and swimming.
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