Common Application

Molly McEnroe

Prompt: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

As I bent down to pick up the bar, my brain spun in circles, telling me why I had to lift this weight.  With my trainer yelling words of encouragement, I clenched my fists around the bar. In one less-than-graceful movement, I lifted all 300 pounds, feeling stronger than I ever had before.  I let the weight shatter to the ground in one confident move of triumph.

Lifting 300 pounds broke the high school female deadlift record at my gym, but it meant so much more to me.  When I was twelve years old, the surgeon who diagnosed me with a brain tumor and hydrocephalus told me I could never play sports or engage in “risky activities” again.  Throughout my entire life, I had always been the little girl who ran around with the boys in the mud, playing soccer or kickball. My personality stood on my grass-stained jeans and old t-shirts. I wanted the exhilarating sense of action and recklessness, in love with the feeling of dirt under my nails.  Now, after years of enjoying adventurous activities like zip lining and hiking, I couldn’t imagine what I would do with myself after the doctor suggested I “buy a camera” to document my friends and family enjoying these activities since I could no longer join them.

I left the office in tears that day.  I never could have imagined that such a big part of my life could be taken away in such a short amount of time, or how I could ever recover from such a setback.   However, I took the doctor’s words as a challenge and decided that I wouldn’t let my diagnosis stop me from enjoying my life.

After my surgery, I needed to escape the hospital and feel proud of myself again, and that feeling came with lifting. Lifting had always made me feel positive about my body: a symbol of strength and hard work. Whenever I had a bad day, I would go to the gym and exist with my thoughts, just me and the bar. Although I wanted to get back to the gym right away, I first had to go through physical therapy because my body was greatly imbalanced and my bones weakened.   It felt as if I had no control over my body or my life anymore. As the entire left side of my body was affected, I had to do full body physical therapy before I could focus on strengthening specific areas. After a painstakingly long ten months, my physical therapist determined I was strong enough to go back to my gym.

Walking into the gym on my first day back, I had to stop listening to the little voice in my head telling me to turn around and lower my expectations because I would never be the same. However, returning to a familiar place comforted me and made me feel that maybe things would not be the same, but life could be even better.  I needed to take what life gave me and use it as fuel to better myself. Returning to the gym meant I would have the chance to find myself again.

I am constantly amazed by how much the human body is capable of achieving, especially after being restricted for so long. Dropping the 300-pound weight to the ground with satisfaction, a smile lit up my face knowing I had just achieved a major accomplishment. Stuck in the hospital, I worried that I would never regain my former physical capability, but being able to lift as I had before my surgery proved that I had won the competition with myself.

Tips for Writing:

When I first received the list of common app prompts, I had no idea what I would write about or which one I would answer.  I had so many ideas, that I decided to start writing different essays and follow through with the one I felt represented me.  Another difficulty was choosing an idea that would be unique to me, or at least one that I could write about from a unique perspective.

  • Start writing an essay for each prompt, spending about 20 minutes on each one
  • Decide which prompt you felt most passionate about and had the best perspective, then continue with that prompt
  • If your word count goes over the limit, cut out any parts that repeat information or that might not be necessary to the understanding of the essay as a whole
  • Sometimes it’s better to write about something really small that had a big impact on you, rather then some huge life event
  • Don’t worry about editing until later- just free write to start