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MIT student blogger Anna H. '14

The Swim Test Saga by Anna H. '14

Four laps (and zero displacement) closer to graduation

You’re a first-semester senior and this is what Section 2 of your Undergraduate Degree Audit looks like:

This is a very lonely situation, because the vast majority of your peers passed the swim test as fresh-off-the-boat/plane/car freshmen.

(During freshman orientation week, new MIT arrivals swim four laps (100 yards) in droves, and receive a free t-shirt as a reward for not drowning. If drowning seems plausible, an individual can opt to take an introductory swimming class instead.)

When you arrived, drowning was highly plausible, not because you didn’t know how to swim but because your ankle was badly sprained and a small bone in your foot was broken. Courtesy of a brutal Ultimate Frisbee injury, you spent the first two weeks at MIT hobbling around on crutches, and didn’t get to take the swim test with your friends.


And now it’s December, sub-zero (Celsius) outside, and it occurs to you that breaking your leg could actually prevent you from graduating. You do a quick calculation, and realize that you have had an average of one serious leg/foot/ankle injury per academic year at MIT.

Freshman year: that Ultimate Frisbee incident.

Sophomore year: the incident with the wheelie chair and the ramp, which landed you in an x-ray facility at Mount Auburn Hospital.

Junior year: the incident on the New House 5 staircase, which landed you in an ambulance and MIT Medical. You were on crutches for weeks, thanks to a broken big toe.

Senior year: ???

Uh oh. Visions of watching your friends receive their diplomas while you weep in the audience flash through your mind. You have pistol class in a few minutes (for those last two PE Points!) and the swimming pool is right near the range*, so you put on a swimsuit and head on over.

*They’re separated by lots of wall, don’t worry.

It’s 2pm. Goggles on your forehead, you approach a lifeguard and announce that you are here to take the swim test. She looks at you skeptically. “It’s only offered at 8am and 8pm,” she says. You say that you saw on the website that it’s possible to arrange to take the test at a different time. “Try going to the swim office,” she says, waving her hand vaguely in the direction of a solid wall.

Okay. You retreat to the locker room, look up the swim office number, and walk over barefoot.

Knock, knock.

Swim office lady: “Hello?”
Me: “Hi. I’d like to take the swim test, and I was wondering if I can arrange to take it now since there’s a lifeguard free.”
Swim office lady: “Um. I don’t know anything about that, sorry. And the guy who does is in a meeting.”
Me: “Do you know when the meeting will be over?”
Swim office lady: “I don’t know anything about it, sorry.”
Me: “Okay.”
Swim office lady: “You can leave a note for him and I’ll get him to e-mail you.”
Me (thinking that seems unlikely): “Okay.”
You write your name and e-mail address down, wait around for ten minutes, then sheepishly walk home.

* * * Six Hours Later * * *

You return, except now it’s MANY MORE degrees below freezing. Clothes in locker, goggles on forehead, find lifeguard.

Lifeguard #1: “You need your ID card.”

Back to locker room, retrieve ID card, past Lifeguard #1 who seems busy, find Lifeguard #2.

Lifeguard #2: “Okay, let’s find a lane.”

There are no empty lanes.

Lifeguard #2 stops a random man at the end of his lap. “Can we share this lane with you? There’s a student who needs to take the swim test.”

He says sure, then awkwardly starts zigzagging, presumably because he’s not sure which half of the lane you want.

Lifeguard #2: “Okay, you have to jump in, then swim four laps continuously. You must swim the first three laps on your stomach, but the last one can be on your back if you’d like.”
Me: “Okay.” (Thinking JUMP? Like, jump far? Or just hop? Or step? What if I land on the other swimmer? Also, why would anybody opt to swim the last lap backstroke?)

You jump and start with freestyle. At the end of the second lap, you remember that freestyle is kind of tiring and switch to breaststroke. Four laps isn’t too bad.

Me: “Okay, all done.”
Lifeguard #2: “Great!”

As you walk out, you pass Lifeguard #1. He says “piece of cake, right?” and for some reason that makes you realize that you forgot to bring a change of clothes. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! You stick your head under the hairdryer for a couple of minutes, then walk back to your dorm commando so that your swimsuit doesn’t freeze solid to your skin.

Congratulations! You passed the swim test. Four laps (and zero displacement) closer to graduation.