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Akili PHD: The Swimmer

By Michelle Fadley | Resource Manager

Swimming has been a huge part of my life since the beginning. Both of my parents were swim coaches so swimming was a way of life. By 2.5 years old, I could swim by myself, barely lifting my little face out of the water and diving back down pretending to be a mermaid. That love for the water grew as I began competing in swimming at the age of 5 years old. By 10 years old, I was part of the top relay team in the country, competing in Junior Olympics and traveling around the state for meets. In high school, our girls’ team placed second in CIF championships where I was a finalist in several events. This all led to my ultimate swimming goal of competing for a Division 1 college, Pepperdine, where I was a scholarship athlete for the 4 years that I was there.

Swimming at that level took a tremendous amount of my time and energy, but it also opened up some wonderful opportunities. When I was 16, my club coach took a group of swimmers to Australia where we were able to swim in the Olympic competition pool in Sydney. We were housed with families from a swim team in Brisbane where I learned about Vegemite and how to swim clockwise (opposite of what we do in the US) in a warm pool. We also went to Fiji and were able to scuba dive with sharks! I love that swimming took me places and allowed me to meet so many wonderful people.

I continue to enjoy the water and have passed on my love for it to my kids. I was able to teach both of them to swim by 2.5 years old and they have competed in our neighborhood summer league team for several years. They enjoy riding the waves and playing in the pools at all the places we have traveled to. We recently took a family trip to Belize where they were able to swim with sharks and stingrays.

Swimming has also allowed for me to give back to my community in a unique way. I love teaching people how to swim almost as much as I enjoy swimming itself. I started teaching lessons to toddlers when I was 12 years old. From teaching kids with autism to kids who didn’t speak my same language, I learned there are so many ways to explain the art of swimming. I later went on to coach a summer league team of 120 kids ages 5-18 who ended the season as league champs. Then I coached a group of 120 teenagers at my high school alma mater where I lead a group to CIF championships. From over two decades of teaching swim lessons, from toddlers to adults, there is something so gratifying when you see someone go from fearful of the water to never wanting to get out!

Swimming has taught me how to wake up early, even when I don’t want to. To compete and push myself, both for my benefit and for my team. I am constantly reminded that we can always dig deeper and find the energy for one more set. It taught me to love and care for my body, both physically and mentally. It taught me time management skills, how to win and lose, and that even a hundredth of a second matters. I may not get in a pool everyday anymore, but the lessons I learned from the sport have shaped me into the person I am today.

When life gets me down, the famous line from Dory in Finding Nemo reminds me to just keep swimming.