Tseng excels in the pool

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Tseng excels in the pool

Sophomore Tiffany Tseng swims the 200 IM

Sophomore Tiffany Tseng swims the 200 IM

Sophomore Tiffany Tseng swims the 200 IM

Sophomore Tiffany Tseng swims the 200 IM

Varshini Ramanathan, Editor-in-Chief

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Junior Tiffany Tseng is one of New England’s top junior swimmers. Her passion and drive have brought her records both on the Westford Academy Swim and Dive team and in her club team, and as she moves into her senior year, she is beginning to compete nationally and looking ahead to college commitments.

Tseng has an impressive list of accomplishments to her name. On Westford Academy’s swim team, she helped her team win the Division I State Championship title in 2016 as a freshman, winning second place in the 100-meter backstroke and freestyle races. In 2017, she was the state champion in the 200-meter individual medley. She is one of the fastest girls in the history of her club team, SOLO Aquatics, holding the 100-meter backstroke record as well as several other top times.

Tseng’s excellence is a combination of natural talent, a goal-oriented mindset, and her own drive. Her mother enrolled her in swim lessons just to ensure safety, as she herself does not know how to swim. She quickly developed a keen interest in swimming, and, unlike her siblings, pursued swimming to a competitive level.

“I think she enjoyed being in the water more than she enjoyed being in air,” said Tseng’s mother, Joanne Lin.

Tseng herself does not know what drew her to swimming, but just that she enjoyed being in the pool and wanted to continue doing so. She was never pushed by her parents, and as such she became more aware of her drive and began to take the sport more seriously.

Although she gave up her carefree attitude towards the sport as she became more competitive, the reward outweighs the increase in stress and frustration.

“If I was still swimming casually like that, I would have stopped a long time ago,” she said. “Naturally, I’m a very lazy person, so without some sort of goal in mind, I won’t be able to pursue something as much […] If I don’t see an end goal, I don’t see much reason to continue,” she said.

‘Goal-oriented’ is also how Tseng’s coach, Meghan Feran, describes her. She calls Tseng a “smart swimmer”, taking the time to fully understand techniques in order to apply them effectively and methodically learning from her mistakes.

“She has this different kind of a passion for swimming. […] she doesn’t like to fail. She’ll push herself to do what needs to be done,” she said.

Swimming is very much a mental sport, and Tseng has struggled with nervousness and insecurity leading up to meets. However, her ability to learn from her mistakes has helped her fix mental faults as well.

She described an experience from the Speedo Sectional Championships this March in which a mental block led to her finishing five seconds later than her usual time, a significant margin for swim times.

“I remember finishing that race and feeling so angry. I knew that my mindset had been wrong going into that race, so really, I had thrown that race for myself,” she said.

However, she made a conscious decision to change her mindset, allowing her to break out of her mental spiral before it affected her other races.

“I remember talking to my coaches, I remember crying a bit, but then I went into the locker room and just looked myself in the mirror and I decided to gain composure over myself,” she said.

Feran says that Tseng has a hard time believing in her own skill, often feeling that she is lesser than other competitors at her level. Tseng explains that though she struggles with feelings of inferiority, her teammates and coaches help alleviate them.

“Insecurities I have about myself have carried over into swimming. I really don’t know,” said Tseng. “I know I’m not the best student or the best swimmer or the best at anything, really, but it’s just that the small successes I’ve had, I think, do make me feel good at times. And just knowing that I have a whole […] support system, it’s helpful.”

Tseng spends more time with her team than she does with her family, and they have become the core of not just her swimming support but her social life.

When she first began swimming, Tseng was extremely reserved; she recalls that she did not talk for a whole year after joining. However, the common interest she shared with her teammates allowed her to open up little by little and has since become the source of her social life.

“Whenever she makes, she’s sincerely making friends,” said Lin. “I’m very happy that she has a group of good friends, good swimmers, and she has coaches that […] help her, become her friends.”

Due to its various impacts on Tseng, swimming has become a part of her as well as an irreplaceable part of her lifestyle. She practices two and a half to three hours per day year-round, and travels to meets on several weekends. Compounded with her commute to Haverhill, she often does not get home until the evening and then has to deal with homework from a schedule of all Honors and AP courses.

However, she has learned to deal with the constant stress, and in fact finds that skipping practice makes her more likely to procrastinate. She has never considered attending practice itself to add stress to her life, because it is a natural and necessary part of her life.

“I don’t view swimming as a task, per se, more that it’s a part of my lifestyle,” Tseng said.

In fact, swim acts as a stress reliever for her, where she can shut out the school stress and the pressure of succeeding in junior year. Feran believes that the single-minded hard work is good for her.

“When’s she’s in the pool, she’s working as hard as she can […] to really be able to have something to go to when everything else is weighing [her] down, that’s really essential,” she said.

Looking to the future, Tseng hopes to qualify for Junior Nationals, the highest level of junior competition in USA Swimming, this winter.

Beyond that, though, she hopes to commit to a Division 1 school and has already been talking with coaches from some universities. The university she has connected to the most is Georgia Tech, partially because its academics are very high-caliber.

Nothing is set in stone yet for Tseng’s future. All she knows for sure is that she will be swimming for the rest of her life.

“I could never imagine what my life would be if I didn’t swim, […] otherwise, I would just fall apart,” she said.