Why we play: Robin Corleto, Diving

This week, junior diver Robin Corleto speaks to his experience as an athlete of color. “Why We Play” is a space where Vassar players can write about what their chosen sport means to them. / Courtesy of Carlisle Stockton

Elementary and middle school was a lot. I was bullied for being the “fat kid,” having a “gay voice,” hanging out with only girls and speaking “weird” due to my speech impediment. During that time, I let those labels get to me and let them define who I was and what I could do. This is still something I struggle with. In hindsight, I see where some of my anxiety disorder came from.

I tried to handle my anxiety through reading and working hard in class, but it was not enough. I still felt uneasy in my skin, in my physique, in my physical abilities. Suddenly, in seventh grade, I had major surgery on my intestines and lungs which (literally) saved me from dying, resulting in major weight loss from my two months in the hospital. When I went back to school, I was not the “fat kid” anymore, but I still did not feel comfortable with my body and I wanted to change this. So logically, I decided to join a sports team. My family did not have the money to let me join a club sport outside of my school, so I joined the one sports team in my middle school at the time: Students Run Los Angeles (SRLA), an organization that trains students to run the L.A. Marathon. It mainly consisted of people of color and was aimed at low-income students; it was calling my name.

In March 2011, I ran my first marathon in 50 degree weather with strong winds and downpour. It was worse than lung surgery, but I loved it. I felt great. I felt strong. I felt like I was more than what people said I was. I was a marathon runner; that was the first label I gave myself. I felt like I had some strength other people did not and could use it to empower and protect myself from other people’s thoughts of me. How many other people my age can say they ran a marathon? How many other people know that type of discipline, that focus, that pain? I also realized how much I loved being on a sports team; The community of people working towards the same goal and encouraging each other felt amazing. I decided to try other sports on top of marathon running: becoming a member of track and field for a hot second, the baseball team rocking a jockstrap, co-captain of my cheerleading team junior year and some boxing in my senior year, all while running a marathon each year of high school except my first year.

I became a student coach/captain in SRLA in my junior year, and I loved it: guiding my teammates through stretches and runs and helping my teammates through their personal problems, all while racing myself and competing with my friends in most of our races. I felt great knowing that I was able to be a role model for other students and remind them that no matter what society limits them to, making them feel like a statistic, they are so much more than that. I am much more than just the child of two immigrants, I am more than my anxiety disorder and learning disabilities, I am much more than a bisexual man. I am a marathon runner with great discipline and physical and mental strength.

When I got to Vassar, I initially was going to join the track & field team, but they were too quick and ran way shorter distances than what I liked and was used to. I was in Coach Lisl’s swim class when this random person who ended up being my next-door neighbor/future friend/role model, Nora, came to talk to Lisl. I overheard that she was recruiting for the diving team and I decided I wanted to join so I could be part of a team again. Initially, it seemed easy and fun; I get to wear Speedos and justify my idolization of bisexual jock Tom Daley. As I started to learn the motions of diving, as well as attempted to dive, I was genuinely scared. I have a fear of large bodies of water (shout out to the Pacific Ocean for drowning me once) and a fear of heights (shout out to the Ferris wheel in California Adventure Park). The concept of literally jumping on a bouncy surface three meters in the air, turning my body into tight rigid forms, avoiding hitting my head and trying to land in the water safely without getting a concussion or severe bruising was a difficult lesson for me. I specifically remember crying on the three-meter board, scared to go off, but now I am so willing to fling myself off a diving board while knowing I may get injured. I dive pretty well for someone who has never done gymnastics, diving, swimming, and who just started in college two years ago! I feel a similar drive when I dive compared to when I run marathons and I love it.

Initially, I felt weird going from a team that consisted of POCs and low-income students to being one of the only POCs and low-income students. I felt like a fish out of water (pun intended). Sometimes, I still do get this feeling of being different when people are talking about their summer vacations when I had to work a job most of my summers and stay in Los Angeles the majority of my life; I sometimes feel inferior. But I remind myself that I am doing the exact same sport that the rest of the team does; I am just as capable as they are. Now I have grown comfortable in my skin and on the team, I remind myself I am capable and I can do so much, regardless of what society says. So why do I play? To remind myself, and everyone else, that I am more than what others say I am.

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