Sarah Gibson ’17 graduated in May 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering and the Honors Fellows distinction. In the post below, she describes the determination and effort that went into being successful in and out of the classroom, as well as the support she received along the way.
Once upon a time, there was a high school senior who dreamed of competing in college athletics while pursuing an honors distinction in engineering. Naturally, everyone else thought she was a little crazy.
I am, but that’s only tangentially relevant to this story.
My name is Sarah Gibson, and I am a former biomedical engineering student and swimmer in addition to being the loudest and proudest member of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Class of 2017! A WHOOP!
Looking back on my time at this amazing university, I am left with two overwhelming impressions. Firstly, where did the time go? Secondly, did I really just do that?
That, for clarity’s sake, being the trifecta of graduating from engineering in four years while competing, representing the United States in World Championships, and being honored with far too many awards as a scholar athlete.
Now I’ll admit these were things I’d dreamt of, but in all honesty, my doubts outweighed my dreams quite exponentially. Picture this: my test scores were decent, my best times mediocre. Outside a burning hatred of being told “no” and a stubborn streak that went on for light-years, I wasn’t a five star recruit by any measure. Fortunately for me, there was a coach willing to take a chance on me, so I packed up my bags and headed over to Aggieland.
I’ve heard it said that many people discover who they are during their college years, but I spent more time discovering who and what I wasn’t. For example, I wasn’t able to keep up in practices for the first year or so. Throughout that first semester, every night I’d flop down in my dorm room and think “you’ve finally bit off more than you can chew, honey”, quickly followed by “there’s no way I can finish my homework and study for that test” with a dash of “I wonder how much Buc-ee’s pays its employees”.
I share this – not because it’s kinda funny after the fact, though it is very much so – because I know it is easy to look at someone successful and say “gee, I’d love to be like that if only <insert relevant qualifying statement of choice>”. That’s just an oversimplification.
I struggled every day. Whether it was getting through sets or staying awake in lecture, everything took tooth-and-nail clawing to reach the goals I had set for myself; however, I would be remiss in attributing this to myself alone. My friends enabled my achievements.
From my honors family coming to watch me at dual meets to the other BMEN-ites sharing notes and, more often, food, my classmates at Texas A&M provided the support I needed to be the woman I aspired to. Let’s walk through a typical day for illustrative purposes.
It’s 5:00 AM, my phone alarm blaring. I stumble out of bed, grab my things, and head over to the Rec for practice. We begin at six o’ clock exactly, so I have around twenty minutes once I’m in the locker room to review notes, check my email, and eat a meal bar before workout begins. My teammates arrive, and we mumble and grumble about it being too early and the water too cold. The clock strikes six, and the workout begins.
If you’ve never trained in a competitive sport before, I’m not sure how to describe the utterly jaw-clenching, body-aching, oh-dear-lord-make-it-stop pain of workouts. To those of you who’re nodding along, you know what I mean. It’s a deep burn, an exhaustion that turns even the most menial of tasks into Herculean trials, both physically and mentally. It’s the kind of tired where you come home and flop onto your bed, only to start sobbing because you remember all the assignments due tomorrow that you haven’t even touched yet.
Okay, so that last one might be a little more me-specific, but you get the picture. Workouts last two hours on paper, and a little longer in practice. After swimming, it’s time to head over to the weight room for our morning lift. That takes another hour out of the day, so it’s 9:00 in the morning and we’ve done more work than most people will do all day, before the average college student has rolled out of bed. Not bad for a bunch of meathead jocks, right?
Off to class, already three hours deep in physical and mental exertion, is it any wonder athletes have such a hard time being present in the classroom? I was fortunate to have friends in class who would lend a hand by helping me stay awake or letting me look over their notes. Honors classes helped in that regard by being smaller and more focused, so paying attention required less effort on my end. I also deeply enjoyed getting to know my professors, who are hands down some of the most interesting people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.
After surviving class and getting assigned several hours of homework that I mentally defer until the weekend, I go back to the Rec for another two hours of workout. Then, I scrounge up some dinner, try to study, and go to bed before 11:00. Before long, the alarm goes off and the cycle begins anew.
Add, atop the grueling training schedule, the absences of in-season competition, which takes several weeks away from student-athletes, and it become apparent that while representing your school is an incredible honor, it is also fraught with obligations and expectations. I know, without an iota of doubt in my heart, that I could not have achieved the success I have without the support of my friends and colleagues. The Honors Program provided an opportunity to make those connections with people I otherwise would never have met, to which I am grateful.
Why embark on this journey if it’s so difficult? Well, although I admit to enjoying the simple things in life as much as the next person, something about reaching beyond what’s safe – what smaller minds may dub “unattainable” – makes the success all the more sweet. Without having chased my dream, I would be less than half the woman I am today, let alone the caliber of athlete and scholar
As I write this recollection from my hotel room in Budapest, where I await the beginning of the pool swimming portion of the 17th FINA World Championships, my phone is constantly buzzing with well wishes from friends around the globe, but with a noticeably higher concentration of Aggies than average. It is with their belief and support that I can step forward on the international stage without being crippled by fear.
After all, what’s a 100 butterfly when compared to solving partial differentials on three hours of sleep?
To view Gibson’s athletics roster profile, visit http://www.12thman.com/roster.aspx?rp_id=3399