College Essay: Swimming to Success


Editor’s Note: The following college admissions essay was written by Bonnie Dai, a member of the Class of 2021. She shares about her love for swimming and how it has shaped her life and helped her become a confident leader.

Bonnie at the state meet in February 2021

I used to have mixed feelings about swimming. Starting at seven, I quickly learned the basic skills from my enlightenment coach in China, and for 6 years had training almost every day throughout the year. In my first regional I got second place, and more glories followed. Simply nothing could stop me. I was in love with swimming. 

In fifth grade in the provincial team, despite challenges, I was confident and ambitious to manage everything well because I knew what I wanted, I knew where I was going, and why. However, when I was so proud of myself winning the third place at the all-around provincial competition, I had no idea that two years of stagnation was about to strike. My performance didn’t improve, whereas the pressure from school kept growing. I began to doubt myself and lose confidence. I even thought about giving up. I felt lost. 

Swimming: new challenges at SMA

More challenges were yet to come. At thirteen I came to the U.S. for my education at San Marcos Academy. Feeling all alone, I was nervous because I couldn’t understand much in class. Sometimes I didn’t even have the courage to say hello. However, it is in such an environment that something in my heart invigorated me, urging me not to give up, but to study English harder. Slowly but apparently I started to communicate with my teachers and classmates and ask and answer questions in class. I had better grades and was getting used to the environment. But I still had not made much progress in swimming. 

Worse, when I was about to enter the ninth grade, the swimming coach resigned, and I was not sure if we would still have a team. I asked classmates and teachers to reorganize a team but did not make immediate progress. It was a great loss for me. I felt terrible and didn’t know what to do. Yet I suddenly realized that I loved swimming so much that I would never give it up, just like a parent wouldn’t give away her child. Swimming had accompanied me for over ten years. Only when I was about to lose it, did I realize how inseparable it was from my life. I wanted to swim. I needed to bring back my team. 

college essay
Bonnie with her coach, Jacob Scott, at the 2018 state meet.

Swimming: Gathering a new team

This time, I shared my feelings and hopes with the dorm staff, and they immediately contacted people who could possibly coach. To my big surprise and joy, a dorm staff’s husband volunteered. The school agreed on the condition that I find four more students to join. Even though half of the season had passed, I invited my classmates to join right away, making announcements on school broadcasts and recruiting posters. We gathered a team of five. Knowing that we needed a captain, I volunteered to serve. Training began at 5:30 a.m., but I always arrived ten minutes in advance to warm up and greet everyone. When the coach wasn’t available to train at the pool, I called my teammates to run on the track and practice core strength in the gym. When they needed to improve movements, I modeled for them.

Bonnie at the 2019 TAPPS meet..

Soon regionals came. It was my first time participating, but I tried my best. When I thought I wouldn’t qualify for state, the result was beyond expectation. I was selected! I cried out tears of joy but didn’t relax, because I knew that there would be stronger opponents in the state competition. I trained harder than before, put more effort on honing my skills and ended up the tenth in the state. 

For the following years I continued to be the captain helping everyone improve. My teammates were very thankful, but I only felt obliged to do my job, to become better together with my team. Swimming has taught me about passion, leadership and perseverance, and I will keep motivating and helping others wherever I go. I am proud to say that I love swimming, and swimming has shaped who I am.

college essay
In the fall of 2021, Bonnie plans to study sports management at New York University.