I am writing this from my apartment in New York City while texting a former teammate who just closed on her first house in Austin. All Longhorns know that all big life events require Tiff’s Treats, and my teammate is thanking me for the box of cookies I sent to celebrate her finally “becoming an adult.”
In the nine years since we were freshmen swimmers together at the University of Texas, our lives have changed dramatically. We’ve moved all over the world, established careers, started families, had children and, most importantly, re-grown eyebrows previously bleached by chlorine exposure.
Our time on campus wasn’t easy. We struggled to balance coursework and swim practice, and we missed a lot of class to compete for the university. Those challenges pushed us and amplified what I believe to be the core values of Longhorn leadership: good humor, genuine curiosity, enthusiasm and a strong work ethic. Beyond academics, these values have helped cultivate success in each of our unique journeys and, to me, represent what it means to be a Longhorn leader.
When I signed my letter of intent to compete for the University of Texas, I had no idea how formative my years spent on the Forty Acres would be. Today, I live in New York City and use my degree in economics and business in my career in cyber security. The habits I established during college heavily influence the way I approach my work and relationships.
My recruiting class on the swim team was known for being funny, or at least thinking we were. We pranked each other constantly, freezing goggles into ice blocks, tying equipment bags to the end of the 10-meter platform, prank calling teammates from spoof caller IDs. When the video series “Stuff People Say” was popular, we filmed a swimming version, which went viral in our community. We were light-hearted and worked hard with a smile, pursuing success with no guarantee our efforts would be enough to best the competition, yet enjoying the process nonetheless.
My time at the University of Texas taught me to be fearless and enjoy the journey. Inspiration wasn’t hard to come by, with our coaching staff exemplifying these Longhorn values of dedication on a daily basis. Carol Capitani, our head coach, balanced raising two daughters with her recruiting and coaching duties. Watching her guide her team and family with apparent ease made my own course load and training schedule seem less daunting in comparison.
As I look back, I realize that the act of preparing for competitions and exams that I learned in college is the skill that I utilize most now in my career and personal life. The goals being pursued were important, but not nearly as important as how or with whom they were being done. Those relationships and preparation techniques continue to bring me joy and success.
When I won my NCAA title in 2013, the biggest joy I felt was in seeing my teammates and sharing the experience with them. While it was an individual race, it was a team victory. More than any course I took or lap I swam, the friendships I formed in Austin changed me as a person and taught me lessons and values that I believe are the core of Longhorn leadership.