The close-knit quality of the girls’ varsity swim team is common knowledge on campus. Between the hours they spend in the pool, in dry-land training, and simply in each other’s company, the teammates are more like a family than anything else.
Although heading that family is no easy task, Coach Sonja O’Donnell, affectionately known to her swimmers as “O’D,” does this with a passion and a commitment that enormously inspire the team.
When asked about her team’s success in past years, Mrs. O’Donnell attributed it most to that sense of a close, unified team and also to the mental toughness her athletes possess.
Mrs. O’Donnell said, “A special philosophical approach to our training and being together has made us so recognizably the team everyone wants to cheer for. It’s borrowed from Taoism: ‘When you are doing the dishes, do the dishes.’ That means, when you are in class, be in class; when you are socializing with friends, socialize; and when you are at swim practice, be at swim practice.”
This “be present” idea “boils down to not allowing other concerns, negative thoughts, and the future distract us or derail us at any given call to practice in our days, including swim practice,” explained Mrs. O’Donnell.
While the girls strive to push themselves individually, the team aspect, rare in the largely individualized sport of swimming, is strong and is what seems to pull through and put the girls on top. “We like each other and support one another, and at the core of this team is a deep loyalty to team and commitment to self-improvement,” Mrs. O’Donnell reflected.
As for her goals for this season, Mrs. O’Donnell said, “This year our team goal is to continue to set personal, team, and league records, and to be the team everyone wants to cheer for! I am also really looking forward to what the new girls will bring to the team talent pool and the chemistry that will develop from that. Already I can tell we are stronger and deeper.”
Co-Captain Katherine Miller ’12 added to this excitement. “As a team, we know how hard work combines with enthusiasm for the sport to make an unbeatable combination for success,” said Miller. She explained, “On top of that we have Ms. O’Donnell, who works incredibly hard to ensure that each season is memorable and who teaches that leadership is the foundation of a successful team.”
Miller continued, “She encourages us to live in the moment and approach each practice with open minds.”
However, if the team thinks highly of Mrs. O’Donnell, no one can think more highly of the team than she can. When asked what her favorite part of coaching this team is, she said, “These girls. They are the most committed, motivated, courageous and inspiring group of young women I have ever met. That has kept me coming back year after year for the past twelve years, revising and tweaking our training to match that passion.”