Jan. 16, 2009
The Rice University swim team is in the middle of its dual meet season and the Conference USA Championship is only a few short weeks away, but junior Justine Lin is going to miss some critical training later this month with one of the most unique excused-absences to date. Lin has been allowed to put her training on hold in order to accept a rare invitation to go to Washington D.C. on Jan. 20 to attend the upcoming Presidential Inauguration.
Coaches (like teachers who have been in their similar profession long enough) will tell you there is no end to the different and creative explanations why their young charges have to somehow temporarily alter their daily work or practice routine. Rice head swim coach Seth Huston, who has heard close to everything while coaching on the college level the last 15 years, had to admit this was a new one for him. What didn't surprise him, however, was that something this unique could happen with Rice's equally uncommon type of student-athlete.
"She'll miss four days of training that she won't be able to get back, but this is also a pretty awesome deal for a college student," Huston said. "How can you say no to that? We can see beyond four days of training for an experience like that."
Lin was invited to go to the nation's capitol Jan. 17-21 where she will represent Rice at not only the Inauguration ceremony, but in a national conference of university students. The conference will feature members of Congress and political officers talking about, and getting feedback on, a wide range of domestic and foreign issues.
For as uncommon as the opportunity is, it's even more so for Lin who is not a political science major like a lot of the other university invitees are expected to be. Lin is a pre-med student who admitted she is more interested in Orthopedics than politics. She is an outstanding student who last season was named to the C-USA Commissioner's Academic Honor Roll and an official Peer Academic Advisor (PAA) at Rice. The title allows her to counsel other students on the hours-needed and course-work requirements for the University's different majors. It was Lin's interest in medicine that indirectly led to her upcoming capitol trip.
"I participated in the National Youth Leadership on medicine forum, hosted by UCLA," Lin said. "Students (who were considering pre-med) spent two-and-a-half weeks on-campus there going to area hospitals. We got to watch surgeries and talk to a lot of doctors, who shared their experiences with us. That program opened the door to participate in other leadership forums like the medical one, but in other fields. There are similar forums for economics, law, business and political science - practically every major."
"Truthfully, I was not in to politics like some other students," she explained. "I've taken only the most-basic Poli-Sci class. I needed to learn more and improve an area about myself where I maybe wasn't as knowledgeable or interested."
The Dallas native decided to do something that often helps people, all people no matter their status or profession, get a little more well-rounded. They step outside their comfort zone to learn something new. Lin wanted to grow and get a little better, so she casually answered some questions on an application for the Inauguration event and sent it in without much expectation.
"It's kind of crazy how it all started with the medical conference," Lin added, "but I now know there's only a certain number of tickets so this is a great opportunity."
Seizing an opportunity is a theme Lin has come to embrace the last few months after a dramatic turn in her athletics career. As a freshman member of the Owls' swim team two years ago Lin took the Conference USA veterans by surprise. The young star finished third at the C-USA Championships in the 200-yard backstroke and posted the fourth-fastest time in school history in the event.
Around that same time she began to notice her right shoulder was starting to hurt and feel a little funny. By the middle of that summer (2007) the pain was far from a laughing matter. She was in excellent care at Rice, but still had to fight through the swim team's following season in 2008. Her 200-backstroke time had slowed by almost six seconds, an eternity in competitive swimming.
"Last year was pretty rough for me," Lin said. "It was the first time I had ever been injured in athletics and I was even thinking about quitting. I didn't want to quit though and regret it later. I would be thinking about what could have happened."
Lin stayed on course. She is in fact getting back in familiar waters where her backstroke times are concerned and the team looking particularly sharp. In their most-recent meet, the Rice swimmers upset Big 12 power Nebraska on the road in Lincoln to win the Cornhusker Invitational. The Owls next host SMU on Jan. 16 and swim at LSU two weeks later.
The junior backstroke specialist will miss a few training days, but the team appears to be in great shape for the rest of the season. In Lin's case it might be all for the best. Her one-of-a-kind opportunity, that just happens to allow for a few days off, may be just what the doctor ordered.