With graduation approaching quickly, we as seniors can’t help but reflect on the past four years. Although for many this is the end of our journey at UCLA, we will be Bruins forever.
Comparing where I was – entering as a freshman – to where I am now – just a week away from graduation – I know I owe my growth and development as an athlete, student and most importantly, a person to the program that has defined who I’ve been for the last four years.
Joining the UCLA water polo team was more than just a commitment to play water polo; it was a commitment to be challenged and grow, to fail and then succeed, to be pushed and respond. Although my playing career has come to an end, the lessons I have learned will stick with me forever.
At UCLA, it is every student-athlete’s dream to reach the pinnacle of college sports: the NCAA championship. In 2012, my freshman year, we earned ourselves a spot in the final for an epic showdown with USC. However, one of the fastest lessons I learned here was that things rarely go as planned.
When we fell at the buzzer in the title game that year, we followed it with a grueling offseason to avoid the same result. Unfortunately, as is often true in life, there are no guarantees, and we failed to make the NCAA Tournament in 2013 after UCLA’s best regular season in 20 years.
Heartbroken, some of us questioned our system, each other and ourselves. But coach Wright never did. He led us when we were lost, he gave us life when we were deflated, he demanded our best when we were at our worst. We got back to the final in 2014 and again in 2015 and won both, cementing our place in UCLA Athletics history.
When I reflect on these experiences, I realize the single greatest gift I received from being a student-athlete at UCLA was not a record, trophy or award, but rather an opportunity. Each day brought with it a challenge: the chance to be pushed to the limit mentally, physically and emotionally. Each day presented the chance to find my personal boundary and try to go a little further than the day before, to succeed where I had previously failed and to find a way to thrive during times of discomfort or uncertainty.
While I leave my athletic career behind me, I know that as I move forward I will always carry what I have learned. I know I can always push myself to be better today than I was yesterday, and I know that while at times, failure is inevitable, I can always choose how I respond to it. As I leave this university that has done so much for me, I carry with me a mindset that will serve me forever. And as long as I have that, I will always be a Bruin.
McClintick played for the UCLA men’s water polo team from 2012-2015.