Luna Chen is a graduating senior at Mercer Island High School in Washington, and a retired swimmer of OCA (Olympic Cascade Aquatics). Like many others in the class of 2020, she has had her prom and traditional graduation ceremony cancelled due to COVID concerns, and she will likely never see many of her classmates again. As for college, many schools are still unsure of when they will reopen campuses. Luna has committed to attend Northeastern University in Boston, but she does have mixed feelings about the possibility of online classes, as college tuition is incredibly costly even with a scholarship. Many others in her boat have prepared themselves for the possibility of a virtual semester, and some have opted to take a gap year instead.
In terms of swimming, Luna has not been affected too much, since she has already finished her last high school competitive season at MIHS. Chen took a pause on club swimming two years ago to focus on her academics and college applications, which has paid off as she has since been accepted to several prestigious universities. She looks forward to joining club swimming again in college.
Luna first began taking swim lessons when she was five years old. She has been swimming competitively for 6 years, during which she has trained diligently year-round–attending countless morning practices, logging tens of thousands of hours in the pool and doing dry-land exercises. In high school, she also swam varsity all four years. Her favorite event is the 100 breaststroke.
For Luna, her favorite part of swimming is not only the exhilaration of races and setting PR’s, but also the community it cultivates. In her words, swim teams are “like a family that continuously pushes people to do their best.” After spending so much time in the pool, her teammates are like a second family, and being in the water is like second-nature.
“Gliding through the water, my arms move in sync with my legs. Soothing rhythmic splashing sounds fill my ears as my thoughts keep me solace underwater. When I swim, I’m in my moment of zen. For a few hours, I am at peace. There are days when I feel stressed out, but after swimming, I usually feel happier and in control of my life.
I also love the encouraging dynamic of my swim team. Everyone on my team is incredibly supportive. I have met some of my best friends through swimming. Our shared grind through hundreds of hours of practice together has made us incredibly close. Regardless of the college I attend, I absolutely plan to continue swimming.”
But a sport like swimming also requires incredible grit, and the ability to endure pain and push through difficult sets. Luna describes the hardest thing about swimming as having the motivation to attend practice every day, and giving your best effort even when you could be gaining on your times or having a tough day at school.
“A setback I have encountered as a swimmer is feeling like I am not good enough. There are some days where I have trained hard, analyzed videos, and done dryland but have not seen any improvement of my times during meets. I have found that one must not feel discouraged by obstacles and be persistent in order to improve.”
Luna’s sister, Stella, is a rising high school freshman who also swims for OCA. Due to COVID-19, her regionals swim meet has been cancelled.
“It was disappointing as I worked hard the entire season to try and make it to regionals. I was very excited for regionals as it is one of the most competitive meets of my season and I was looking forward to watching fast swims and meeting fast swimmers.”
Both Luna and Stella have been doing dryland exercises at home, by following ab workouts on Youtube, jump-roping, or playing badminton. Additionally, with the stress of college applications lifted, Luna now has more time to pursue her hobbies–she has been cooking new recipes and trying new workouts, in addition to learning the ukulele. Some of the recipes she has tried so far include tiramisu, chocolate souffle, sushi, whipped coffee, and matcha pancakes.
Luna says she is staying motivated to do her best during this pandemic by reminding herself that there are people out there who are struggling to even have basic necessities. She feels lucky that she is able to stay home and not go to work during this time: “I am not only staying at home for myself, but for all the people around the world in order for a brighter future.” She is also encouraging people to donate to help marginalized populations who are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. For example, organizations like Facing Homelessness (facinghomelessness.org) are working to assist the homeless, who are especially pressed during this difficult time.
For younger swimmers, Luna’s advice is to stay positive, and make the best of what you have. She understands the frustration that many swimmers may be experiencing, due to pool closures and meet cancellations. However, Luna brings up the point that now is a good time to learn more about nutrition and dryland workouts, which will be greatly beneficial once pools open again. “Also,” she adds, “think about the extra time you have to sleep now that you don’t have to wake up for morning practice!”
Ultimately, Luna does believe that life will go back to normal, even if it may take some time. She hopes that athletes will not lose sight of their goals during this time, as sports have taught her so many important life lessons.
“From pushing through the last round of a 1,000 yard set to swimming the 200 yard fly, swimming has taught me incredible grit and perseverance that I can apply to all aspects of my life. It has also taught me the importance of time management as balancing sports, school, and extracurricular activities can be hard sometimes.”
Next Monday, Luna Chen will be celebrating her 18th birthday in quarantine. Having known her my entire life, I can attest that Luna is not only an amazing swimmer and a stellar student, but also the best friend that anybody could ask for–Luna, good luck in college!