First Person is a series of student profiles designed to share a glimpse of the wide and varied interests of Whitman students.  While all Whitman students share the experience of the college’s focus on academic rigor and excellence, their diverse interests and activities vary greatly outside of the classroom.  The series provides a snapshot of the lives of students across campus, from the athletics venues to the theater stage, the chemistry labs, Ankeny Field and beyond.

This profile features Libby Arnosti ’13, a sophomore swimmer. 

Hometown: St. Paul, Minn.
Major: Environmental Studies-Humanities
Expected graduation year: 2013
Favorite activities at Whitman: Swimming, Chorale, writing and editing for The Pioneer, shopping at Goodwill.
How’s the season going?
I’ve had an incredible time so far this season. Our team is a really supportive group of swimmers who trust and respect each other – I have never felt so comfortable with a group of people before in my life. I am around teammates who give their all in every practice, who treat their bodies well and are dedicated to health, who can get excited about a hard workout and who commit themselves completely to the team. They’re inspiring. I know I’m a better swimmer because of this team. Jenn Blomme, our coach, has really been emphasizing good technique in the water, so we have been forced to take responsibility for every aspect of our swimming. Now we have better technical skills than any other team in the conference, which I think will be a great asset at the conference championship meet. We also have some awesome new freshmen who have added a lot of talent and a lot of fun to the team. I can’t wait to see how far we can all go at conference, but I am not ready for the season to end.

What are the best and most challenging aspects of life as a student athlete?
As a freshman last year, it was great for me to have an immediate group of people I belonged to on campus. That being said, there is a lot of academic diversity on the team, and many different personality types. A lot of my best friends on the team I may never have gotten to know if it hadn’t been for swimming. Our conversations and interactions are always entertaining and dynamic – it feels like a very large, very rambunctious family.               

Balancing academics and athletics is a challenge because both take up so much time. But honestly, I find that swimming is an organizing principle that actually improves my time management, rather than something that puts stress on other parts of my life. I found my niche in swimming.  It’s part of my lifestyle – it’s not just another activity I do. So not swimming to have time for other things is not an option – that would be like quitting my major because it limited the number of other classes I could take. Like any other part of my life, being a swimmer affects the amount of other things I can be involved in, and I work with that.

What makes Whitman athletics unique?
Comparing Whitman to similar small liberal arts colleges I visit, I am always reminded of the distinctive feel of the Whitman student body.While obviously very academically and athletically motivated, we lack the unpleasant competitive edge I have seen elsewhere. We are noticeable happier, more open and more at ease with ourselves and each other than how I have perceived of students at other colleges. Our unique “Whittie attitude” lends itself well to the athletic scene, too – the profound kinship on Whitman sports teams seems to be much deeper than the connection other teams in our conference have. I am confident in saying, for example, that the Whitman swim team cheers better, louder, and more sincerely than any other team in the NW conference. I have seen great teams make huge athletic achievements and never cheer the way we do at every meet.

What has your greatest sports moment been?
My happiest, most personally satisfying moments, I think, have all happened in practice. One specific memory I have is from last year, when the team was in California for our winter training trip. Even though we were all exhausted from the constant workouts, we arrived one evening at the pool and I was just on. My mind shut up and I guess my body took over and decided it was time to lay it all down. It was one of those great practices where everything just clicks – my walls were tight and fast, my stroke was long and powerful, and I felt totally unbeatable. I was acutely aware of myself and everything around me: the crisp dark air, the cool water around me, my teammates in the next lane over. I made faster intervals than I ever had, and had absolutely the best time with it.  I couldn’t stop grinning the whole practice, it felt so good. That feeling, of having no inhibitions, of having limitless power, is something I try to recall during those practices when my body is tired and my mind is telling me to quit. It’s a feeling I work to get when I race. The fact that I could feel so strong during such an intense week of training reminds me that my body is often capable of doing a lot more than I might think.

Why did you choose to attend Whitman?
Before I visited during my junior year of high school, I was intent on going to college in an urban area. But once I arrived at Whitman I immediately felt comfortable with the people I met – they were friendly, interesting, and seemed just so happy to be there that I couldn’t help but be drawn in. My host, Ali Schlueter ’11, was great about introducing me to the swim team, who seemed to have a lot of fun together and were all genuinely interested in getting to know me. It was one of those things where I instantly felt a connection to the people and the place, and I just knew it would be an awesome place for me to go to school. I was totally sold by the time I said my goodbyes. I stayed in touch with Ali and a few other swimmers. When I was  accepted during Early Decision, she was one of the first people I told. Having been here for a year and a half now, I can safely say my gut feeling about this place was spot-on.

What has been your most significant learning experience at Whitman, either in the classroom or in the pool?
At Whitman, I’ve learned what it means to get a quality education. A good teacher is one who can inspire students to think critically, ask important questions and take leadership. A good student will take advantage of the opportunity to allow a lesson, a book, or an experience to affect the way they think and act. In my time at Whitman, I have learned that I’m capable of being both a teacher and a student. I think realizing this has made me more confident in my current abilities and in my capacity to learn and affect thoughtful and inspired action. I’ve found things that I love and that challenge me – writing, swimming, philosophy, language, singing – and pursued them. Investing myself in these things has taught me the value of following my passions, and making the most of this education.