Passions Can Change. Your Identity Doesn’t Have To.

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“I don’t want to go to college, I want to DANCE!” I cried after my first visit to the College of William & Mary. As I repeated this story to my friends on a William & Mary crew training trip exactly two years later, I could hardly believe that had been me. Ballet felt like the only thing I wanted to do. Through my junior year of high school, I thought I was going to be a professional ballerina. I left school two hours early each day to go dance for four hours and sacrifice my toes and a typical high school experience.

When I realized that I would never be as good at ballet as I wanted, I decided to go to college.

It was best decision I have ever made. I knew that going to college would mean an unparalleled experience for me that I couldn’t sacrifice only to fight for an unlikely job in a cutthroat industry.

The summer between quitting ballet and starting college freed me from my tight slippers, but felt as strange as dancing without them. I didn’t feel like I knew my “thing.” I had always been the ballet girl. The idea of not knowing what to say when someone asked me what I did outside of academics made me feel boring and lost. I loved spending time with my school friends and going on runs free from the constraints of a ballet schedule. However, I needed a new “thing,” something that could give me a niche in my new home and give me purpose outside classes.

At the activities fair the night before my college classes started, I probably signed up for every high commitment sport club William & Mary offers. After I went to the first open rowing club practice, I knew that I was on to something. Not only did I feel like I picked up the rowing stroke quickly, but I loved the conversations I had with every girl I met. The varsity women were fun, genuine and passionate. Practice after practice, I became more confident as well as more frustrated in the boat. With everything I learned, I found out how much more there was to learn, and how much more I wanted to learn.

One dark evening, as we rowed back into our home creek, we accidentally rowed right into a marsh. After our coach tried to help us free the boat for 20 minutes, the motor on her launch died and we remained stuck for quite a while until, embarrassingly, someone towed us safely to shore. Even though I felt so frustrated in the moment, I developed a new appreciation for the good practices with the added bonus of a funny story to tell everyone back on campus.

Ironically, rowing at William & Mary showed me the real reasons I loved ballet. Dance took care of everything. It made my body feel strong and powerful. It let me unwind with friends after a long day of school. Its challenges and successes made life so much more interesting. I knew that I wanted these things in whatever activity I joined in college.

Rowing had everything I wanted in a sport without the subjectivity and constraints of ballet. There is a limit to how far one can progress in the ballet world without arched feet, long thin legs and relatively low body weight. Additionally, the teacher chooses the dancer for a part or advancement. Such subjectivity can make it difficult to progress without the perfect body or relationship with a teacher. On my rowing team, only the numerical score that I pull on an indoor rowing machine influences the rank of the boat I am placed in. There is a direct relationship between every ounce of effort I put in and the progress I see as a result.

Rowing at William & Mary gives me everything I need to do well in the other aspects of college life. I can focus for longer on homework after a good practice on the water and dinner with my teammates. I have great friends who share my competitive spirit and enthusiasm for a good workout. Moreover, I have found my niche at William & Mary, and a new passion to pursue in to the latest phase of my life.

Madeleine is a freshman International Relations major and French minor at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA. She enjoys rowing, going on adventures through Colonial Williamsburg with friends, and is an advocate of the return of full-fat soft serve to the dining hall.

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