I was helping my sister write her personal essay for college a few weeks ago and I came across a prompt that really hit home for me: "If there is anything about your identity that you think we may need to know, this is the time to write about it." Not only was it an interesting prompt — you could write about anything — but my sister's essay held in words after four years that I still haven't been able to get out in six. "Crew is my identity." 

I started when I was a freshman in high school, not really sure of what I was getting into, and I actually started as a rower for my first season. Halfway through I told my parents that I wanted to quit, but my mom looked at me and said, "There's no way you're quitting." So I didn't, reluctantly, obviously, but I kept with it. 

As I grew older, got through hard classes, started participating in student government, I found myself moving up in the crew world as a coxswain. I had the Senior 4+, but then I had the Junior 8+; by the time I was a senior, I had moved onto the boys team and was coxing the Senior 8+ that would be going to Nationals that same season. When I was going through my senior year of high school, I sat down with my mom and told her that I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue with crew in college, that I wasn't sure if being involved in athletics in college would benefit me. 

I should preface that I had my fair share of panic and anxiety attacks. When I get nervous I tend to shut people out; about an hour before races I wouldn't talk to anyone and just focus on breathing and myself in order to make sure that I could actually continue in a race. I often found myself sitting by myself near the boat trailer instead of roaming to find the food tent with my team in order to control my anxiety. I wasn't sure that continuing this process for another four years would really be the best option for me. Then, I did my first official athlete visit at my current school, the University of Rochester. 

It wasn't exactly a liberating experience for me, I didn't realize that I was going to be involved in crew in college, but I did see what crew could give me. It would give me a group of people right off the bat when I got to school; I wouldn't be forced to make friends right away because I would have them on a team. I would get on a schedule easily with practice and I could control my time a lot better than if I didn't have it. These are things that I hadn't considered before doing an athlete's visit. 

After I came home, I sat down with my mom again. I explained what I had felt, what I had witnessed, what I was worried about. I told her I would be applying, and that I still didn't know if I would continue with the rowing team when I got there or if I got into any school, for that matter. Surprisingly enough, she told me the almost exact same thing she had said when I first starting rowing: "There's no way you're going to that school and not participating on the team." 

Two years later, she was right. I'm still on the race course, I'm still going to practice, I'm still part of a team I didn't even consider when applying to college. 

Do I still have anxiety and panic attacks? Yes. Do I still get nervous around my coaches and teammates when I don't do something 100 percent right? Of course. But that hasn't stopped me. I find myself in a position where I'm known in my residence hall, in my sorority and around campus as someone who is not only actively involved, but actively involved on a sports team. It's my identity. It's me. I've overcome so many obstacles, and even have three new medals to prove that the hard work of my teammates pulling me along was worth it. And to be honest, I wouldn't trade the last year and a half I've had already on my team for anything. 

I'm not saying it's going to be this way for everyone. There are plenty of people who don't participate in sports once they come to college, and it's OK. To have it reiterated in my parents, in my sister, in my life on campus — it makes it hard to leave. Which is probably why I haven't. But it's also why being a coxswain, and being on this team, is my identity. It's who I'll be known as by so many people for the majority of my life. I think that's worth more than a lot of things. Even a college essay. 

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