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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, April 18, 2024

First-year swimmer Jillian Cudney discusses importance of team during pandemic

Hamilton Pool is pictured on Feb. 16, 2018.

COVID-19 restrictions have taken a toll on many aspects of campus life at Tufts this year, and athletics is no exception. The modifications have taken different forms across different varsity sports. For swimming, in addition to the expected masking and distancing around the pool, practices have been broken into smaller groups of 12 athletes and shortened to 50 minutes. All in-person meets were canceled and virtual meets that were on the radar were nixed once the stricter enforcements were put in place in November. These tighter restrictions included calling off all team practices and closing Tufts’ fitness center, which includes the pool.

Going from November to February without access to a pool was difficult for Jillian Cudney, a first-year student on the women's swim team. While some other athletes were able to continue practicing their sports individually, swimmers were unable to get in the pool.

“Swimming fitness is like no other. There’s a certain feel for the water that running or going to the gym is not going to make up for,” Cudney said.

Spending so much time unable to practice and compete caused Cudney to reevaluate why she swims, and wonder what her life would look like if she stopped. Without practice or any competitions on the horizon, Cudney took a step back to examine her priorities and consider whether swimming was one of them. 

Cudney eventually concluded that, even with the current challenges, swimming was not something she wanted to give up. Instead, she became more determined to hold herself accountable to her swimming responsibilities, even outside of a normal season. She does know, however, that her competitive athletic career will come to an end eventually, which is something that this elongated absence of swimming made her cognizant of. Although this was not a pleasant thought for Cudney, she did find it to be a productive one.

"I realized there's more to my life and my day than a sport," she said. 

As long as swimming is still in her life, however, Cudney will remain grateful — and that includes right now. During a first year as unsettling as this one, with many classes online and restrictions on gathering sizes, Cudney has found that being a member of the swim team has benefitted her Tufts experience greatly. As soon as she arrived on campus, Cudney knew she had people she could reach out to during a time when it was hard to feel a part of something.

"Having a teammate support system was crucial," Cudney said. 

Cudney has also found other silver linings associated with being on a sports team at Tufts during an abnormal year. She spoke of getting to know teammates who swim other strokes and distances, something she was only able to do when this year’s practices became based on schedule availability instead of their usual grouping by event.

"The people that you were grouped with during practices was pretty random, so across different strokes and distances you got to meet people that you otherwise might not have interacted with as much," Cudney said. "One positive was getting to know people you were thrown together with instead of people you might’ve sought out based on similarities. [It] kind of forced you to get to know people, but in a good way." 

According to Cudney, spending so much time with the same small group of people also made it easier to build strong relationships with them, instead of the looser ones that are more likely to form in larger settings. Cudney specifically credits the team's coaches and upperclassmen with creating a positive environment for first-year students.

"They’ve been very accommodating and have done a phenomenal job of getting to know us, and some of the upperclassmen as well," she said. 

Despite the difficulties the swim team has faced this season, Cudney has been able to reignite her passion for swimming, find a support system that makes her see Tufts as a home and consider what life will look like when it is time to say goodbye to the sport t she has dedicated so much time and effort to. Although the swim season this year is far different from how it has been  in years past, Cudney appreciates how being a member of the swim team has improved her first-year experience during the pandemic. While she misses the camaraderie of a swim meet, Cudney said she is thankful for the close relationships and new interactions that smaller settings have granted her.

For Cudney, even with the turbulence and uncertainty that this swimming season has brought, it all goes back to the feeling of being in the pool.

"There is no substitute for having time in the water,” she said.