I learned at a very young age that the things we take for granted might be the things others cherish in life.
I’ve been fortunate, honestly.
My parents have been able to not only provide me with the basic necessities, but they’ve also provided me with everything I needed to become an elite athlete.
Coming from a position of privilege, I was taught that everything should be appreciated, even something as seemingly simple as swimming equipment.
My mind always goes back to one girl, in particular.
She was a sixth-grader looking to join the swim team. She never swam before, and swimming is surprisingly an expensive sport. I remember seeing her come in for the first time wearing a two-piece, fun beach bikini that you’d see a lot of kids coming to the pool in.
If you’ve ever swum competitively, you’d know how hard it is to compete in an outfit like that.
With it being my last year in middle school, I decided to give her my swimsuit, cap, and goggles.
That exchange is a moment I think about often.
Just seeing that big smile on her face—I don’t know. It’s very humbling seeing somebody get so excited over something you’ve taken for granted for so many years.
Would you believe that same sixth-grade girl that didn’t know how to swim ended up competing in and finishing a 100-yard race?
From that moment on, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
I immediately started taking on more leadership roles as I learned some of the hardships my teammates were going through at the time.
You see, I come from a pretty low socioeconomic status area, and there were a lot of kids that weren’t able to join the swim team because they couldn’t afford the equipment. It was one of those sad situations where if you didn’t have that spare money, often times, you just didn’t get to experience the sport.
I couldn’t let it go. I had to do something.
So, I started up a drive for the kids in my area. I collected swimsuits, caps, and goggles. I even reached out to Speedo and had quite a few brand new suits donated for the cause. But the work didn’t stop there.
As a part of a project for the International Baccalaureate Program at my high school, I chose to do a swimming clinic for children of special needs.
I saw a chance for my teammates on both my club and high school team to come together and give one-on-one lessons to kids that might not have otherwise had that opportunity.
Yes, we wanted to emphasize the idea of water safety, but it was also about being comfortable and just having fun around water.
But it wasn’t just about teaching the kids. It was about teaching the teachers as well by bringing everyone together. I wanted to help my peers build an understanding of children with special needs.
I could educate them on what it meant to have down syndrome and how they were people just like us with normal fears of the water.
I credit my parents for my impulses when it comes to giving back to the community. Everything stems from my upbringing.
My parents are two of the most giving people I know, and my mom was a huge help with that project. She’s a special-needs music teacher, and most of the kids there came from her class.
At the end of the day, it was just something I was very passionate about because I grew up around it.
I love those kids so much.
Swimming has paved the way for so many opportunities for me, including the chance to become a Division I student-athlete at SMU.
I feel like every athlete that walks on this campus understands and recognizes that we have a distinct privilege that comes with this platform.
We have a responsibility to give back to the community that’s been so gracious to us. There’s also the responsibility to give to those that might not have the same opportunities we had to get to this point.
While my community work was predominantly influenced by my parents in high school, I was heavily influenced by a good friend and teammate of mine, El Yellin, who was the President of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) in my freshman year of college.
I ended up having a chance to meet El, and although there were four years between us, we realized we both chose SMU for similar reasons.
From the moment I stepped on campus, I wanted to be a part of something bigger than just my swimming ability. I wanted to leave a lasting legacy here at SMU.
So, I made the decision to join SAAC.
I rose from the general ranks to eventually becoming the President of the organization.
Our main focus is to build the sort of community as a campus and athletic department that would encompass the entire Dallas community as a whole. We want to reach out to people and actually go into these neighborhoods and have honest conversations with these kids.
We have a ton of different outreach programs like the Dunbar Elementary School Mentorship PenPal program, where kids are writing messages and communicating directly with student-athletes. There’s also the Weekend Wonders 4 Kidz, which is committed to feeding kids over the weekend.
And then there’s Move for Miles, a foundation that has athletes coming out and working with different children that either have cancer or those going through the recovery stage.
Additionally, on-campus SAAC will also be doing some work with an initiative that targets the stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness. We hope to encourage our athletes to speak up when they need help, and educate our coaches and administration on how to handle those kinds of situations.
I’ll keep putting those impulses to good use as we continue to head up these programs, including pushing for diversity.
The end goal is to be seen as Dallas’ school and represent the community by building on that image more so than we have in the past.
SMU is not exclusive.
Anyone that’s willing to work hard and put in the effort can become an SMU athlete. My hope is to reach out into the community and connect with these kids to help make them feel like it’s possible—because it really is possible.
I don’t plan on stopping at SMU, either.
I’m currently looking at applying to law school. I recently took the LSAT in August, and I’m hoping to apply somewhere this fall. I hope to pursue a career where I can give back to the community and other non-profit organizations, not just collect a paycheck.
It’s about fulfilling my passion for helping people and creating even bigger smiles in the process.