Taking the Plunge
Growing up in Alexandria near the coast has meant that water has always played an important role in my life. When I was 2 years old, my father began teaching me how to swim. The process was difficult at such a young age. He would put me in the water, I would struggle and only then would he come to my rescue. Although I came to enjoy swimming in my youth, I did not learn to appreciate it as a sport that could teach me lessons about perseverance, friendship and leadership until I was 12 or 13 when I began swimming for the Alexandria Sporting Club. As I saw myself improving, my passion for the sport intensified. Years later, in the summer of 2007, I won three gold medals and one bronze medal for my age group at the Egyptian national competition. Swimming quickly moved from a hobby to my whole life. I absolutely love it. My best memories are associated with the sport. I have developed lifelong friendships with swimmers whom I met when I was 4 years old. Through them, I have learned about teamwork, sacrifice and shared glory. I have also been able to travel outside Egypt for international competitions in Germany, Greece, Hungary and Lebanon. In many ways, swimming has opened the world to me.
Although it is a serious commitment, there are also incredibly fun moments. After morning practice, my teammates and I would be starving because we had burned thousands of calories through our exercises. Outside of our club, there was a small foul stand, and we used to go there and happily devour the mid-morning treat. It did not really bother us that the man serving us would always have dirty hands and that the beans had turned into this weird orange color. We would eat and eat and eat. A swimmer’s appetite can never be satisfied!
I feel incredibly lucky to have come to AUC. Many other universities in Egypt do not have competitive teams, but AUC is different. Here, like in the States, students can play a sport while still maintaining a high level of academic rigor. I knew that it would be hard to leave Alexandria and join another team besides the one at the Alexandria Sporting Club, but I have been able to continue to pursue my passion at AUC.
The team here is tight-knit. Our goal is to help each other improve so that we can be more viable in individual competitions. Because schoolwork can be demanding, though, it is hard to stay motivated to come to all the practices regularly. As captain this year, I have tried to instill in my team the importance of dedication. Our team is small compared to some of the other schools in Egypt, so it is essential for us to continually improve if we are going to stay competitive. The newly opened Paul B. Hannon Swimming Pool will definitely help us because now we will be able to easily train outside of normal practice hours, especially after they hire a full-time lifeguard.
Even with some of the challenges, the AUC swim team has done extremely well in international competitions. We won first place at a swimming contest hosted by the American University of Beirut (AUB) in November 2009, and we recently returned to AUB for the first International University Sports Tournament. There, we won 19 gold medals and were again awarded first place in swimming. AUC won the entire tournament. We will not rest on our laurels. Instead, we will use these wins to inspire us to move forward. Personally, I want to continue swimming for as long as possible. I think it will always be part of my life. Of course, I have dreams to go to the Olympics and represent Egypt, but the time commitment required to achieve that feat is quite difficult. However, just like when I was 2 years old and learning how to swim for the first time, I will continue to persevere.
Karim El-Shazly is a sophomore majoring in electronics engineering and was captain of the AUC swim team for the 2009 - 2010 academic year.
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