For most student-athletes, there last chance to play the game they love comes in high school. There are a lucky bunch that gets to play collegiately but most will never play competitively again.
It is a tough pill to swallow, but a necessary one.
After all, there is still a bunch to look forward to in life beyond sports.
For some, it is hard to let go of the sport they love, but for others, they are perfectly fine with letting go of one thing they love for another, different type of experience.
Allison Gonzalez, a native of Bakersfield, CA, thought her swim career was over.
In fact, when she choose Westmont College she knew it would be, and she was okay with that
“When I was looking at schools up and down the coast none of them made me feel at home. I heard about Westmont and applied late but when I visited I knew I wanted to come here. This place would give me the chance to explore my faith and the academics here are so good,” Gonzalez said.
Instead of opting to play water polo or swim at another school, Gonzalez had the foresight to leave the game.
She knew there were more important things at the time than playing a sport she loved. She was okay with leaving it behind.
“I knew I was never the best player and I knew I could leave it behind. In college, these girls are so competitive, so fast and so strong and I knew I could get better and compete, but honestly, I just wanted a place I would love outside of swim or water polo and that was Westmont,” Gonzalez said.
Still, Gonzalez didn’t leave her love fully behind. She participated in the club water polo team and was even a lifeguard.
When she was a junior, Gonzalez saw a school-wide email asking students asking which sports programs they would like to see added. She quickly responded with a swim program right away.
It’s something she always talked about along with some of her friends: how cool it would be if there was a swim program.
Later in the year, the rumors started. There might be a new sports program and it might be a women’s swim team
“My friends kept asking me if I would join and I just said, ‘why not, what do I have to lose?,’” Gonzalez said.
Not much later, Gonzalez received an email from Jill Jones Lin, the program’s first head coach. The two exchanged information and discussed whether or not she would like to join.
There was just one problem for the Bakersfield native. She was planning on graduating from Westmont in the fall. The swim season extends past the fall semester.
So Gonzalez was faced with a choice: to start her life or to take advantage of her opportunity to swim competitively one last time.
Without a doubt, she chose to swim.
“I never thought this was even a possibility. I always planned on graduating early, but when I was talking to Jill what we really focused on was building a foundation. I knew I wanted to be apart of that” Gonzalez said.
The women’s swim team is one of three new sports programs added to Westmont’s rotation, alongside men’s and women’s golf, bringing the total to 17.
“When you start these things they seem challenging but it is amazing how everything fell in place. For swim, we already had a pool, we were able to find a great coach and we had a ton of interest from the women on campus,” Athletic Director Dave Odell said.
Jones Lin, swam competitively for 19 years with her most recent stint being at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where she graduated from.
There, Jones Lin served two years as team captain, was a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) finalist in the 200 Freestyle and a four-time school record holder.
She received a strong recommendation from UCSB’s former legendary coach Gregg Wilson.
“Gregg was my first phone call when I knew we were starting swimming and he has been wonderful. He is a great guy and really made my life easy with a great first hire,” Odell said.
Since its announcement, the current swim team has 13 athletes on its roster.
The majority of them are freshmen, and Gonzalez is the teams’ only senior, something she has embraced.
“When I talked to Jill I focused on how I could help this team as the only senior. To help these younger kids transition is exciting and to be apart of the team to help get this team off the ground has been amazing,” Gonzalez said.
The road back has been both “rough and great” for Gonzalez. At first, the transition back to being a competitive athlete was difficult due to the strenuous training schedule.
But since then, she has made it work and is really excited to take part in the teams’ first meet on Friday.
“It’s exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time. It will show that we have a lot to offer and we are ready to show what we got,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez also has accepted the fact that this might be a difficult year in terms of the results and times she receives. But she still has her goals and still has her ambition.
“Being on such a short time frame I have accepted that I might not be Michael Phelps at the end of this year. But I am still excited to see what I am capable of,” Gonzalez said.
Even beyond the times in the pool, Gonzalez realizes how blessed she is to have this opportunity many people in her position would love to be in: a chance to have one more time to play the sport they love competitively.
“My life has definitely changed but I am super grateful and lucky even to get to have this experience and I hope it is an inspiring experience for some people,” Gonzalez said.
Even as a first-year team, Westmont has high goals. They believe they have some very capable swimmers that will shock some of the other teams.
“They are dedicated. We are setting a foundation for a great program here and I believe in these girls and our coach. This has been awesome and I am excited to see where we go. We could not have asked for a better situation,” Gonzalez said.
And, regardless of what happens this year, Gonzalez hopes to help this team beyond this first season.
“Absolutely, I hope I can be of any assistance beyond this year. We will just have to wait and see what that looks like but I would love to help in any way that I can,” Gonzalez said.
Westmont’s first swim meet is at 1:30 p.m. as they participate at the PCSC Swimming Relays and Pentathlon at La Mirada, CA.