I started swimming competitively when I was six and became obsessed with the sport in middle school and high school. I never went to a football game because I was at swim practices in the evenings. I woke up daily at 4:30 or 5 a.m. to practice. When people asked, “What do you do?” all I could say was “Swimming.” I didn’t have any other interests and that scared me.
Ten practices a week made me feel exhausted all the time, and I could hardly stay awake in classes. On the upside, my team won state championships my senior year. But beyond high school I didn’t want to continue with such an all-consuming schedule.
When looking at colleges, I was really interested in some larger state schools that have intense swim programs. But they offered the same lifestyle you get when swimming on club and other competitive teams. Club swimming is great because it prepares you to swim fast and get into a DI collegiate swim program. DI helps you take a shot at the Olympics. That’s lots of swimmers’ goals but it wasn’t mine.
Coming into CUI, my goal was to compete on the swim team while pursuing other things. I wanted to grow as a person, to let these four years shape me in a new way.
I didn’t have any other interests, and that scared me.
I wanted friendships, relationships, career preparation, personal development.
A big part of that has been my three years serving on the Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC). This year I serve as president. SAAC is made up of representatives from each sports team, and we communicate the teams’ thoughts to the administration. We also work with other schools in NCAA DII.
Bailee laying next to the new NCAA logo on the gym floor
From that vantage point, and from my spot in the pool, I watched CUI switch to DII. It was so smooth that I think most athletes didn’t even notice. The administration bore the burden of all the changes—and it was a big task to take on.
I did notice that the level of competition and focus during the season went up. CUI is drawing a more driven group of student-athletes to the school. Our practices are a little tougher, and I’m required to make seven practices per week during the season. We now have the opportunity to earn our way to post-season and nationals—an option unavailable to us in our former conference.
At the same time, coaches realize we’re students before athletes. There’s a healthy balance. We show up and work hard at practice, but also make it a priority to find other hobbies and interests.
And we swimmers experience something unusual: an off-season. In club, I swam year round. At CUI, the off-season allows you time to go to the beach and out to dinner with friends. It gives that well-rounded experience I was looking for.
I have friends swimming at Cal Berkeley, Arizona State and other DI schools, and they have had no change of lifestyle from our club swimming days. That tells me everything I need to know.
I’m really happy studying behavioral science and psychology here, and I’m actually able to enjoy classes. CUI’s approach to athletics and academics has given me the perfect, happy medium. I still get to do the sport I love, but I also live a life. I came here wanting to find other interests, and I have done just that.