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first_imgThe lifeguard on the edge of the pool looked worried.Michael Cheng was splashing and flailing about, struggling to keep his head above water. He hadn’t been in a pool in years, which was fine because he didn’t know how to swim anyway. But he gamely, gradually made his way down a 25-yard lane at the Malkin Athletic Center (MAC) with a makeshift doggy paddle. By the time he reached the end, he was exhausted. His heart was pounding.“I just did what I could instinctively do,” he said. “It was honestly one of the scariest moments of my life.”Cheng, a junior in Quincy House concentrating in history and mathematics, was in the walk-on program for the Harvard lightweight crew team. But to officially join the team and take a boat on the Charles River, he needed to pass a swimming test. So he decided to just jump into the deep end, physically and metaphorically, a move that turned out to prove oddly comforting in a world unmoored by COVID-19.Cheng had set a deadline for himself: a few days before Thanksgiving, when facilities would begin shutting down through winter break and perhaps even stay closed. He had to teach himself because, due to COVID restrictions, the MAC was no longer offering swim lessons.Additionally, Cheng was in deep with his academic load, taking seven courses, including two graduate-level classes, and attending socially distanced rowing practices for up to two hours per day.At any event, swimming, so far, was off to a rough start.After he got to the end, the lifeguard sidled over and politely hinted he might try the smaller, shallower pool. There, Cheng spent the rest of the hour he’d reserved trying to get used to being in the water and wondering how he would become a skilled enough to pass the test. He would need to be able to jump or dive into deep water, surface, and swim 100 yards while demonstrating rhythmic breathing, and then tread water for two minutes. Most importantly, the swimmer must demonstrate not just competence but confidence in the water.Cheng possessed neither, but that didn’t discourage him. He saw the challenge as another opportunity to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. And that was an ability in which he had confidence.,“I’ve learned that it’s precisely in uncomfortable spaces where you grow the most,” he said.The son of Chinese immigrants, Cheng felt out of place when he arrived at Harvard two years ago from Pennsylvania. He found the social and academic environment overwhelming and self-doubt engulfed him. “I felt very fortunate, but I’m the first person in my entire family to go to an institution like this,” Cheng said. “My first year was very shaky. I just didn’t feel like I belonged here.”Cheng shed that self-doubt by immersing himself in the opportunities and resources around him, including academic coaching, travel abroad, internships, and House life.He traveled to about a dozen different countries pre-COVID, including spending a summer in Buenos Aires interning for the ministry of urban development, and doing solar panel research in Taiwan last January. He discovered special interests in history, computer science and, this past semester, genetics.Among the seven classes he took in the fall, which included graduate classes in computer science and modern Asian history, was one on ancient human DNA taught by David Reich. This spring Cheng will work as an undergraduate researcher in Reich’s lab.“He not only was an active participant in the class but also attended my [virtual] office hours almost every week,” said Reich, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and professor of human evolutionary biology at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “What I find so striking about Michael is his wide-ranging mind and curiosity about topics ranging from history to philosophy to sociology and biology.” “With the online semester, [swimming] was something that was special every day, that I looked forward to. … A lot of it was just about giving myself permission to go for it.” — Michael Cheng Cheng’s academic coach at the Academic Resource Center also found his all-in effort in everything he does exceptional.“Within the Harvard community, a lot of folks are good at something and we, kind of, stick to that thing,” said Sadé Abraham, M.Ed, A.M. ’18. “Michael’s accomplishments are a testament to how we can pivot, reframe, and still find joy amid the many challenges of this time.”It was that same confidence in unfamiliar endeavors that made Cheng do a double-take when a friend, Samuel Detmer ’20, introduced him to the rowing machine at the Quincy House gym last spring (just before the campus evacuation). Detmer suggested he try out for the team in the fall, and Cheng found himself in the pool when he returned to campus in September.At the end of that first day, the aquatics director at the MAC, Colleen Cleary, emailed him a series of swimming tutorial videos and Cheng did some of his own research. He studied the material religiously in his room, breaking down the movements in the video frame-by-frame and mimicking the strokes. He read books on swimming like “Total Immersion” and spent minutes just imagining being in the water.Every morning at 7, he could be found in the small pool for an hour, practicing what he saw or read. The lifeguards offered pointers when they could. He tried the breaststroke, but couldn’t figure it out so he switched to freestyle.“The first three to four weeks, I literally had nothing resembling an actual swim stroke,” Cheng said.By late October, something clicked. He could swim across the small pool (about 10 yards) without stopping and soon after he was doing laps.The lifeguards, witnessing his transformation into a swimmer while dealing with the difficulties of operating under COVID restrictions, took note of his progress and found themselves rooting for his success.“Watching his journey of self-teach swimming made the strangeness and the frustration of ‘We’re operating in such a limited capacity [and] these hours are really difficult’ worth it,” Cleary said. “Just to watch that little success story happen … it was just a nice silver lining.”They let Cheng know when he was finally really ready for the bigger pool.“I was almost as scared as that first day,” Cheng said. “But then I swam one lap, took a little break and swam another lap and then another.”The rest happened fast. Less than two weeks from Thanksgiving, he learned to tread water and kept refining his stroke and gaining confidence. A few days before the holiday, he took the test and passed. He learned he made the lightweight crew team around that same time.“It was really personally meaningful,” Cheng said. “It just validated coming in basically every day for an uncertain goal without that much guidance.”And in a semester defined by COVID, the experience in the pool provided him an unexpected anchor.“With the online semester, it was something that was special every day, that I looked forward to,” Cheng said. “It’s small but the fact that I was able to do it does make me believe that I can get through and do anything, and that’s the message of last semester for me — whether it’s writing a 30-page paper or getting involved with ancient DNA research, or taking graduate classes, or just being able to pick up rowing.“A lot of it was just about giving myself permission to go for it.”last_img read more

first_img Mark Moisley joins GBGB as Executive Commercial Director August 6, 2020 ARC confirms Belle Vue closure August 3, 2020 Related Articles Share Share StumbleUpon The future of Manchester’s Belle Vue Greyhound Stadium is to be decided today, which could see the track demolished and the site redeveloped to build 247 houses.The proposals made by Countryside Properties were recommended for approval by the local officer at Manchester’s Planning and Highways Committee earlier this week after a consultation report highlighted the track’s decline in revenues and footfall in recent years.Mark Bird, Managing Director of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB), explained that the closure of the UK’s first purpose-built greyhound racing track would be a ‘massive loss for the sport’.He said: “It’s the only track in the North West of the country, the nearest tracks to that in the North West would possible Sheffield or even Shawfield in Scotland. The loss of a track in a big area such as that would be a massive loss for the sport, and also for the wider communities of people in and around Manchester and Liverpool too.”While the track’s future hangs in the balance, an online petition by the Save Belle Vue Stadium Action Group has continued to gain traction, having received circa 13,000 signatures in favour of saving the track.The report submitted to the Planning Committee ahead of today’s meeting revealed: “A detailed assessment has been made in respect of the harmful aspects of the material considerations in this case, mainly the loss of the existing local non-statutory heritage site, the loss of employment opportunities at the existing site and the potential highway impacts from additional congestion created by the proposed residential development.“However, on balance, this level of harm is considered to be outweighed by the benefits the proposed development would bring, in relation to the provision of good quality affordable residential accommodation, an improvement to the overall appearance of the site, the betterment to the ecological value of the site, and the reduction in the noise currently generated by the existing uses to the benefit of existing residents living around the site.“Therefore, although it is acknowledged that the proposed development would result in some harm, this harm does not outweigh the overall benefits of the proposals and the determination of the planning application in accordance with the up-to-date Development Plan.”Bird pointed out that in order to continue engaging with the local communities, and to reverse the decline in footfall, greyhound racing as a sport must reconsider the way that media rights deals are structured and shift the focus towards the entertainment side of racing.He continued: “Because of the way that media rights around greyhound racing have fashioned themselves over the last couple of years, there is less footfall across all of the tracks in the UK. So there are 21 tracks in England and Scotland, and it is something that we as the regulator of the sport are looking at in terms of how we can get more footfall into stadiums.“While most of the stadiums have things like restaurants, but it’s trying to draw that younger generation to the tracks and to get them enthused about the sport which is one of the biggest challenges. That is what we hope to achieve in the next couple of years.”Bird emphasised the social nature of the sport: “Most dog racing in the evening is between 6:30 and 10:30, and it is as much about the social aspects of going to the racing as it is about the actual races. If you are going to go dog racing, you’re more than likely going to take your friends and family with you, and the races form a part of that social event.“For us, it is then about making racing more attractive to a younger subset of people – part of that is making dog racing a form of entertainment, it’s what the dogs want to do, and importantly that the dogs are being looked after due to our high welfare standards. It’s also making racing about the experience that you have while at the track as well. Of all the tracks, Belle Vue draws a huge audience on a Saturday night and always has done.“When most people go dog racing, they will at least back one dog, but really it’s about making the dogs the star of the show. If you can make the dogs into the ‘superstars’, people will get behind that.” Submit SIS greyhound service returns to pre-lockdown levels June 25, 2020last_img read more