On the outside, it’s loud. Coaches line the edges, shouting to inspire. Officials pace the sides, looking for possible infractions. Over 200 athletes fill the space, some preparing for the next event, others relaxing with idle chat. It’s a disordered frenzy.
But in the pool, things are different. The sound is turned to mute and the hectic scene reduced to a steady rhythm: One arm extends forward as the other pulls back. Occasionally, the head turns and a breath is drawn. And with full lungs, the sequence repeats.
The swimmer, now, can see the finish. To her right and left, however, she can also sense her competition. For the last few strokes, she pushes hard and extends her arms. Her fingers reach the pad. Chicago fourth-year Jennifer Hill finishes first.
Hill has had no shortage of athletic success during her four years at Chicago. In the 2013–14 season, she set the school record in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:05.23), the 200-yard IM (2:05.76), the 200-yard freestyle relay (1:35.10), the 400-yard freestyle relay (3:27.17), the 200-yard medley relay (1:44.71) and the 400-yard medley relay (3:48.73). That year, she also qualified in the 200-yard IM, 200-yard medley relay, 200-yard freestyle relay, 400-yard medley relay and 400-yard freestyle relay.
She has had similar success this season, receiving Honorable Mention All-American honors in the 200-yard IM, 200-yard medley relay, 200-yard freestyle relay, 400-yard medley relay and 400-yard freestyle relay, and All-American in the 400-yard medley relay (8th, 3:51.10).
Certainly, with such success, Hill must have started swimming from a young age. The opposite, however, is true. As she recalls, “I started swimming on a summer league team at age nine. Joining the team that summer was kind of a fluke–the summer camp counselors had to encourage me to give it a try.”
But once she started, she couldn’t stop. In swimming, she found a beautiful blend of sport, friendship, and opportunity. “Fourteen years of competitive swimming later, I’m so thankful that those counselors pointed me in the right direction. I fell in love with the sport, especially since I quickly realized that swim meets were a prime opportunity to socialize with my friends.”
That never stopped when she came to the South Side. If anything, in fact, the sport she loved kept on giving. “Eventually, swimming brought me to UChicago, where it has proved to be a fundamental part of my college experience. Athletics at UChicago helped me become a more determined, passionate, and selfless person,” Hill said. “When it comes down to it, college swimming is about cultivating relationships with your teammates while working to improve yourself as a person. It has been a wonderful experience that I will always be thankful for.”
Yet Hill’s impact on the team has been just as strong as swimming’s impact has been on her. Over the past two years, as the team’s co-captain, she has inspired the swimmers, encouraged the younger athletes, and led the team veterans. Hill, though, only thanks her teammates. Even though she will be leaving Chicago at the end of this quarter, memories of her team and friends will never go.
As she says, “Most of all, I’m going to treasure the memories I made with the people I met on the team, in the housing system, in the classroom, and in the community. My favorite memories include the times when my roommates came to cheer for me at swim meets and when my swim teammates came to watch me perform in the orchestra. I will remember all the support I received from my friends and how they helped me grow.”
In the near future, Hill, who has also been an outstanding student, will be working for AmeriCorps as a health educator for the Chicago Health Corps branch. In the meantime, she will be applying to medical school, looking to continue with her spirit of providing and care.
She leaves her peers with a few words of wisdom: “Always keep the bigger picture in mind, and never give up, even when the odds are not in your favor.”