“Andy, you’re on in thirty seconds, right after the commercial.” A week earlier, I was a fish drying out without water. COVID-19 shut down pools. Seeking explanations and some glimpse of hope, I turned to the CDC’s website. There it was: chlorine kills COVID-19.
My craving for the pool was powerful, but after this passion joined science and the socially distant nature of swim team practices, I knew I had to dive in.
I launched a petition on Change.org to convince our Governor to reopen pools for competitive swim training. Signatures that started with myself, my sister, and my grandma quickly exceeded hundreds and then thousands. Days later, I was advocating on live national TV.
I initiate change when my heart, my mind, and my gut align. It’s an undeniable combination of feelings, like being in the middle of a long car trip and having to pee: It may be inconvenient and uncomfortable, but the overwhelming potential for relief is the biggest motivator. Until I got mature enough to evaluate when to stand up and speak out, the only time I ever felt this way was on road trips.
Now, when the possibility of change and the heartache of inaction override the temptation to be passive, I act. The potential for safe swimming even during the Pandemic was clear: we had the science, a Social Distancing Protocol issued by USA Swimming, and a multitude of swimmers, coaches, and organizations desperate to responsibly return to their chlorinated homes.
An alarm clock pierces my uneven sleep. As I shuffle downstairs and try to finish my yogurt shake, I rifle through my interview notes with trembling fingers. What have I gotten myself into? What if I freeze up? I set up Skype between deep breaths, cognizant of the fact that Fox & Friends will imminently invade my living room and broadcast my every move live to millions.
With nothing to guide me but a blank laptop screen, I focus on the sound and the substance of the co-host’s questions, surprising myself as my mouth cooperates with my brain and I manage to limit my “um’s.” After five minutes that simultaneously feel like five hours and five seconds, I am thanking Ainsley for her time and exhaling while I close my laptop.
Skipping every other step, I sprint upstairs, resisting the urge to look at the rapidly accumulating texts and pings emanating from my phone. Instead, I view and review each second of the taped segment, identifying gaps to fill and visuals to polish, like adjusting my chin angle because no, there was no fly buzzing around the ceiling. Luckily, I get a second chance when the petition goes viral, and I am back on TV advocating to enhance my impact.
Soon, the pools reopen and the water feels better than ever…until the Pandemic shuts them again. This time, when live national TV calls, I am ready. I lock eyes with the camera, speak steadily, and confidently make my case for reopening pools in New Jersey and across the nation. After gratefully acknowledging the hard work that my YMCA and others are doing to keep swimmers safe, I thank the co-host and shut my laptop in satisfaction.
After three live national TV appearances, media attention as far away as Europe, and over 20,000 signatures, I got my feet wet. But I’m still a rookie in a pool of veterans. Big moments like TV interviews are awesome, but advocacy is neither a pop-up shop nor fifteen minutes of fame. The simultaneous combination uniting my heart, mind, and gut holds powerful potential, but I am merely at the starting blocks of my journey. I need college to expand my education, learn from fellow changemakers, and develop my skills so that the next time my figurative bladder is filled with emotion, I can efficiently and productively launch into action.
Tips for Writing:
My writing process: To write my college essay, I first thought about what in my life is super important. When I decided that I wanted to talk about my ability to advocate, I thought of when in my life I demonstrated it best. I chose my work with the petition because it was a substantial event in my life that showed my strengths as well as room for improvement. Although I felt good about my advocacy and job on live tv, I demonstrated my need for a college education in order to elevate my impact as I go forward.