Why We Play: Max White, Swimming

Junior swimmer Max White last year won the Liberty League titles in both 200 and 500- yard freestyle. The reasons White swims are rooted in lessons taught by his parents. Courtesy of Carlisle Stockton

My parents made it very clear from a young age that I had the freedom to do what I want with my life. My sister and I could take whatever path interested us in school and extracurriculars. However, they set two requirements: learn an instrument and play a sport. To make a long story short, my sister and I never ended up learning instruments. But, I did fall in love with sports, competing and working alongside others to accomplish individual and common goals. This ultimately led me to where I am now, on the Vassar swim team.

For a bit of context, my parents met in a swimming pool. They were on the same masters’ swim team, my mom swimming to stay in shape as an undergrad and my dad training for triathlons. Both of my parents were successful athletes. My mom danced professionally for a short time before she went to college and my dad was a world-champion triathlete as a post-grad. Growing up, my parents’ passion for fitness and wellness was obvious, and it’s a passion that I’ve tried to emulate in my own life.

Even though fitness and wellness are important to me in the general sense, I truly thrive under the stress of competition. If you ask my family or my friends, they would all agree that I’m a stubborn competitor, a trait that has helped me succeed thus far in life. I’m fairly rigid in my commitment to athletics. In fact, in a personality trait test I took last year for RISE, a school-sponsored student-athlete program that focuses on assisting and educating Vassar athletes, my number one defining trait was “Competition.” Essentially, I’ve always had at least some conception of my life boiled down to terms of winning and losing. This rigid dichotomy has recently become less important to me, however, as I’ve tried to reframe and redirect my competitive nature. This motivation came from an important moment in my family’s history.

During my junior year of high school, my dad lost sight in his left eye. Since being diagnosed with shingles in that eye in the decade prior, he had an idea that something like this might happen. Even though he tried to joke and handle this struggle in a healthy way, it was obvious this weighed on him heavily. It was honestly a toll on my entire family. My mom was very worried he might become completely blind, because a real possibility remained that the virus could spread to his other eye. My entire family had to sit, watch and wait, doing our best to help my dad get and feel better. Ultimately, he began going to a therapist to help him handle this new obstacle in his life. This helped him a lot, and I think that going to therapy was one of the most important things I’ve ever seen my dad do for himself.

One day, I was talking about swimming with my dad, something we did quite often. At one point, he stopped, looked me in the eyes, and said “Max, just remember that every time you do something, give 100 percent every single day, because one day you won’t be able to.” At the time, I jokingly made fun of his attempt at being a motivational speaker. But today, I have it written on a post-it note stuck to my wall. I look at that every single day, especially when I’m tired, sad or generally feeling like I want to give up. My parents have always been a motivation to me. My mom has her own saying: “attitude and effort,” referencing the only two things she thinks we have control of in our lives. I don’t think that I wake up every day because of my innate love of suffering while training or because I really enjoy winning and beating other people in competition. I do what I do because I have the opportunity to do it.

I’ve met my best friends in this sport. I have countless memories from being a part of athletics, ranging from extreme elation to dismal defeat. I spend a huge part of my life training, recovering, planning, studying and occasionally obsessing over my training. Athletics have even touched my academic life: I am a psychology major because I want to study sports psychology to help people perform at a higher level in any performance capacity, be it sports, music, public speaking, etc. Really, I’ve decided to dedicate my life to the goal of wellness. I didn’t choose to do this because I am successful at sports. I didn’t do this because my dad was a successful athlete or because my mom is a doctor. I didn’t decide to study psychology because of watching my sister grow up experiencing the difficulties anxiety disorders can create and how therapy can help. I don’t want to commit myself to competing and hopefully someday help others succeed in whatever capacity I can. I do it because of all of those things. I give my best attitude and effort because one day I know I won’t be able to.

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