Emily Hopcian, a junior butterflyer from Novi, Mich., competes on the Big Red swimming and diving squad that earned its third straight North Coast Athletic Conference title at the recent championship meet held in Canton’s Branin Natatorium. Her team set a new conference record with 19 victories and six meet records while defeating second-place Kenyon by 347 points, the largest margin of victory at an NCAC championship since 1988. Here, in her own words, Hopcian reflects on the dynamic that inspired the Denison team to its impressive victory.
As I stand behind the block, I adjust my goggles one last time. Even without my iPod, Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” echoes through my mind. I swing my arms back and forth and jump up and down a few times. I stare down my lane and take a deep breath. I put my hands on either side of the starting block and prop my left foot up on the step. My head is down. The official blows his whistle. Conversations turn to whispers. He blows it again. I step up onto the block. Here and there, people shout short statements of support. “Take your mark.” Silence. Beep! In the sweep of a second, I pull and push myself off the block and into the water.
This is a race. This is me against the clock. This is me against me. It always has been, but it rarely feels that way. My swimming is about me and my time, but it’s about my team, too. Where would I be without them? I hate to sound cliché, but I doubt any of us could’ve made it through a tough set, let alone the entire season, without one another. Every morning and every afternoon for six months, we test each other. We push each other to go on a faster interval or to make one more length underwater. And as the season progresses, we watch each other get stronger—both physically and mentally. A few weeks ago, I watched a freshman in my weight group do four pull-ups. At the start of the season, she couldn’t do one.
There’s something electric and empowering about watching your teammates—the women with whom you train, day in and day out—reach their goals, especially at the end of the season. Two weeks ago, someone wrote in our locker room, “Why make a spark when you can start a fire?” That’s exactly what happened in Canton, during the 2011 NCAC championships . The final session, in particular, was unforgettable. One record-breaking swim inspired another, and the energy in our bleachers was incomparable.
After Ksenia Golovkina, a senior from Newton, Mass., shaved more than three seconds from her 200 breaststroke Saturday night, our team exploded. I remember standing at the end of her lane with a handful of teammates, cheering her on. I remember looking at the clock during her final lap and thinking, “Holy cow! She is flying!” I remember the way Ksenia looked at the clock. Her wide eyes and open mouth said it all. I remember the way our team kept shaking each other and yelling, “Where did that come from?!” We were speechless, ecstatic, and inspired. After that, every one wanted to get up and swim. Over the past three years, I’ve learned, time and time again, that fast swimming and the energy it produces are contagious. You get an adrenaline rush watching a teammate swim that fast.
And, in my opinion, that’s what makes our team special. Of course, I remember bits and pieces of my best races, but I also remember watching and cheering for my teammates as they swam their best races. I get confidence and motivation from my own fast swims, but those feelings can come from watching my teammates swim fast as well. Watching a teammate swim a best time and knowing that they’ve pushed through the same grueling sets that I have gets me fired up. As a team, we inspire each other, and we build off of each other’s success.
Sure, there was much more to last weekend than this, but if you ask me, this is the essence of the electric Big Red flame that engulfed C.T. Branin Natatorium.