Originally published in the USC School of Medicine Greenville blog Transforming Medical School
Stroll the halls of USC SOMG and you’ll find some amazing life stories. Many have traveled around the world, from Thailand to Argentina. Some have completed mission trips or succeeded at research in the lab or clinical field. Many have had life-changing experiences, in the face of health care or disease, or journeyed through major adversity on their wait to medical school. We have quite an accomplished student body.
I’ve always thought my history was rather unremarkable. After learning some of the back-stories of my fellow students, I feel quite humbled to be in the class of 2017. I feel quite lucky that I was even considered for an interview here. I would say my greatest accomplishment prior to being accepted was being a student athlete – not a very inspiring bit of literature to write on a personal statement. More than a few times I’ve thought to myself, “why am I here?”
I swam competitively for 16 years, starting my career with the Glennwood Gators in Erie, PA, at the age of six. It was all fun then, and there wasn’t any pressure. I set my mind to winning those plastic trophies, and I did it. Years went by, and swimming became more serious and more difficult. In middle school, I started having morning practices that got me out of bed at 4 in the morning (my poor mom). I sacrificed weekends for swim meets and Saturday morning practices, summers of relaxation and vacation for training. Holidays became known as “hell week,” as it was the best time to get in double practices every day. I managed to swim through 4 years of college at Virginia Tech and survived.
It was in 7th grade that I made a huge mistake – my coach entered me into the 1650-yard freestyle, aka the mile, and I actually performed adequately. That was the beginning of my distance swimming career. The mile – it’s a 16 minute race if you’re me – is sixteen minutes of pain. About 400 yards in, it becomes what feels like an all-out sprint; the stomach pain and heart burn sets in. Your lats become so sore you can hardly move by the end. Your even breathing pattern drops off as you start gasping for air, and that girl next to you – you feel like she may just break your spirit since you have 500 yards to go. After it’s over, I always felt like I sort of “blacked-out” the past 16-17 minutes; I barely remembered the race, it was so tough.
This is hardly the longest swimming race out there, if you’re an open water swimmer, but it was the longest race in competitive swimming. It was the race I did almost every single meet of my life. There were times where I was almost in tears before stepping up to the block, because the impending pain terrified me.
Yeah, I’m insane, and my talent in life up until this point was all mental and muscle. I didn’t travel the world, discover something new in a lab, or save a life prior to medical school. So why am I here?
I think medical school is like the mile, only a bit more. Sixty-six laps-plus a little extra. Because this road is long, like the black line on the bottom of the pool – it’s one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. On this journey, there have been times where I wish I could do nothing for more than a few hours. I cry, a lot. I’ve missed out on trips because I need to study. Sometimes I get so stressed and overwhelmed my head hurts. I doubt myself and my knowledge. And at the end of year one, I felt like I had blacked out the entire year — the time goes by so fast, and it’s so tough, that I didn’t even know what happened.
Swimming was tough, and at times I hated it. Then there were the times where I was ready to race. I loved that thrill of hard work and accomplishment. And my passion for the sport carried me through those 16 years. While I feel tired and burnt out in school, when I find myself talking about medicine, I get so passionate. The nerd in me goes crazy, and I my eyes light up in excitement.
Medical school, like swimming, any other sport, or any other thing if life, requires passion, work ethic, inspiration, commitment, excitement, humility, a little bit of talent, a little bit of crazy, with some fear, desire, and love for good measure. So maybe the distance swimmer in me is right where she should be.
About Laura Simon
Laura Simon is second-year medical student at University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville. She was born in Erie, Pennsylvania but has lived in Greenville for the past 15 years. Laura graduated with a degree in biochemistry in May 2013 from Virginia Tech, where she swam for the varsity team. Her pursuit of a career in medicine began with an interest in biochemistry, physiology, and community outreach at university. She currently aspires to serve as a team doctor with a career in sports medicine and also has an interest in pursuing academic medicine one day.