Written By: Vladyslava Maznytska
“When asked about your brightest memories from college this is what you will remember. Not going out or partying, but something much more special – winning a National Championship.” – Jeff Dugdale to Queens 2021 NCAA group after winning their 6th National Championship.
I remember that moment so vividly, as if it was yesterday – the moment when Queens Men’s team won their 6th National title. It did not happen when they stepped on the pedestal, holding the award. It was the night of the second day of the meet when I stood there in the bleachers watching Mohamed Hegazi finish the most game-changing race I have ever seen. Most people never get to experience what I did in that moment and I truly believe that I will carry this memory with me through life. It was the most special view – all of us cheering our hearts out for our teammate. Words would not be able to describe the energy that filled the pool after Mohamed touched the wall, winning his heat and dropping six seconds off his best time in 400 IM. My heart was jumping out of the chest, tears blurred my eyes and all I could think about is how proud of him I was of f him and of this team. Half of the top eight finishes in each next event that night belonged to Queens’ men, and Mohamed was the one to inspire and lead them on to their title.
I was never taught to feel that way back home in Ukraine. I did not view swimming as something that you can share with other people. Never focused on anything other than myself, I felt like nobody could truly understand what I was going through and how much hard work I have put into this sport. Before starting the recruiting process, I tried to quit swimming three times and, to be completely honest, did not have much faith into neither myself nor the fact that changing my life so drastically would be right for me. Just as most international students, by the time I got to college I have already gone through a fair share of big meets and training camps; I remember the excitement of my first Europeans and frustration with very inconsistent coaching situation. Queens was just like a breath of air after a hypoxic set. The team environment was – and still is – nothing like I have experienced in the past, and I believe that with the legacy that the alumni have left behind, the bar was set very high. Watching all those amazing people do outstanding things together made me wonder: will I fit in? I wanted to. I think that a lot of people would agree that adjusting never comes naturally, especially when you are an international student coming from an entirely different background, left alone opposite part of the world. It takes effort, and it took me a lot of it. But not to blend in – to learn how to be myself while bringing something unique and valuable to the table. Jeff Dugdale once said that everyone in this program is in their own right place, and altogether with all of our cultural differences we create a very special mix, the secret ingredient to which is love.
I could not agree more – and the love that I felt first coming here has shaped me into a person that I am today. I learned that only by giving you will feel complete. And that is exactly how I feel swimming for this team, winning with this team and sharing those moments with the greatest people I have ever met. Standing in front of the block before the race and hearing my name being chanted (even though pronounced incorrectly sometimes) – that is when I knew that all these years of pushing myself to the limit in and out of the pool were not in vain, because one day I had an honor to put Queens cap on and race alongside my teammates.
Looking back after four years at Queens I can say without a split second of hesitation that it has been the best decision of my life. I fell in love with swimming – probably, for the first time in many years. Swimming in college has taught me to make it more than about myself, and I watched truly spectacular things happen when we all were coming together as a team. Swimming at Queens has helped me to grow, evolve and constantly strive to be a better version of myself. My teammates have not only been the best support system I could ask for, but they also motivate me every day as I watch them continuously thrive in life outside of the pool. My coaches and their wisdom will leave an everlasting impact that I will carry with me as I go into the world. Most importantly, the memories that I made through those years will always stay with me because they captured the most defining time of my life and I could not be more proud and grateful to share them with my team.
Vlada Maznytska is a senior at Queens University of Charlotte and an international collegiate athlete from Ukraine. She has been a DII All-American in 100 and 200 backstroke in 2019 and 2021 and continues to swim at Queens in her fifth year. Vlada studies Multimedia Storytelling and Marketing, and aspires to go to film school and work in the film industry in the future. She also enjoys writing and reading, as well as spending time with her friends, teammates and family, traveling and cooking.