Written By: Emma Gwan-Nulla
“Diverse teams create a sense of belonging by cultivating connections and bringing people together.” says Makena Markert. Makena is a product of two different cultures and ethnicities. Her mother is Taiwanese and her father is white American. Identifying as Taiwanese has brought up different challenges growing up. When she was younger she would bring in authentic Asian dishes to school for lunch and her predominantly white classmates would think it was strange; this often made her feel different from everyone else. Makena describes herself as a “foodie”. Between trips back to Taiwan, she reminisces about authentic taiwanese cuisine. Her favorite Taiwanese dishes are Pineapple Shrimp and Hong Shao Rou. These trips back to Taiwan grew her love for her culture as she was constantly immersed with Native Taiwanese men and women.
One experience she shared with me on her trip was getting to swim with a team in Taiwan. Makena describes this experience as “super exciting”. Being half white and half Asian she realizes again that she was different from the majority of the team. She says that this experience was unique because the team was so welcoming and she was able to assimilate better because she spoke fluent mandarin. She says “it’s funny that people [in Taiwan] will say things and assume that I don’t understand because I’m half white but in reality I’m fluent.” She says she took one year of Chinese class but she enjoys practicing the language by frequently Facetiming with her grandparents in Taiwan. Because of the welcoming atmosphere of the team she had contemplated dual citizenship and swimming for Taiwan. She loved swimming with the Taiwanese team because she saw universalities of the sport, even on the other side of the world. Makena says, “it was awesome that even though I was born and raised in the US and they were natives of Taiwan, in the end, we are all just people who loved to swim.”
Growing up on her club teams in North Carolina this reality of inclusion and diversity was different. Makena swam on Star Aquatics, Swim GSA, and Enfinity. Growing up, she remembers having very few teammates that looked like her. She recognized that part of the reason for the lack of diversity is the sheer expense of the sport; it isn’t a financially accessible sport. “It’s expensive to frequently travel for meets. Things like hotels, fast suits, and meals quickly add up,” she says. Makena is incredibly thankful for her swimming experience.
After graduating from club swimming she now swims at the collegiate level at Kenyon. Kenyon college is located in Gambier Ohio, which is right outside of Mount Vernon. About 90% of Gambier residents are Kenyon students. While Mount Vernon is 98% white. One thing she loves about Kenyon is how diverse swimming is. Over 15 countries are represented on the team. Ranging from Jamaica, Russia, Costa Rica, Japan, Barbados and more. Makena thinks the diversity has aided in her growth as both a person and as a swimmer. She mentions how much she loves the people at Kenyon. Having a diverse culture at Kenyon makes people more open minded. There are a lot of conversations about differences and similarities. It allows every coach and mentor to authentically listen and understand. Not only is Kenyon ethnically diverse it is more socioeconomically diverse. Makena mentioned that Kenyon’s financial aid department meets 100% of students’ demonstrated financial need.
To help increase diversity in swimming she talks about water safety and pool accessibility. We spoke about the disparity in my city when it comes to pool accessibility and she agreed. Makena remembers her brother almost drowning when he was younger, which prompted them both to be put in swim lessons. Since then, Makena has recognized the true importance of water safety and pool accessibility.
Makena started swimming at 5 years old, and she swam on many different swim teams throughout North Carolina. Her favorite race is the 100yd breaststroke and she wishes that the 100 yd IM was a race. At Kenyon, Makena served on Kenyon’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee (KSAAC) as the women’s swim team representative and also worked in Kenyon’s Admissions Office as a Senior Admissions Fellow. Her senior year, she was also voted team captain by her teammates. Outside of collegiate swimming, Makena enjoys spending time with her dogs and experimenting with gluten-free recipes. She is an advocate of the prevention of sexual assault which prompted her to double major in Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies. After graduating from Kenyon, Makena is considering graduate studies in the future, but this summer she will coach for Boar’s Head Swim Team and in the fall she will be an assistant elementary school teacher.