As swimmers hit the pool, there is a distinct ripple effect that can mesmerize any viewer. It is here where not only the sky blue waves of water are created but for some, the American Dream as well.
As Stephanie Cushman (‘20) wakes for the many early morning practices, she reflects on what got her here. These early mornings can be very cold and only get worse as the semester goes on. However, the temperature is something Cushman has been used to ever since the first day she jumped in a pool.
Cushman’s swimming career began on a club team called Ronin Aquatics that she attributes as the foundation for her swimming technique. However, it was outside the pool where she realized she could live what she considers to be the American Dream. Cushman describes the American Dream as, “Doing what one loves and having the opportunity to do it.” Her talent has earned her the ability to do what she loves, but it’s the time and effort given by her parents that she attributes as the opportunity.
When growing up in Brick, New Jersey about an hour south of Drew University, it is a part of the town’s livelihood affiliated with the water. Brick sits right on the edge of major hot spots for beach goers throughout New Jersey, such as Asbury Park, Point Pleasant and Spring Lake. Boardwalks run for miles, and the summer smell is vibrant and the atmosphere is full of hot dogs, baseball and naps on the beach. Instead of using these beaches for relaxation like most, Cushman spent her days lifeguarding in Spring Lake and constantly training with the many advantages the beach gave her. The boardwalk would become her track, the sea became her daily one-mile swim and the many pull-up bars across the beach became Cushman’s goal to increase her reps one day at a time.
The beach for Cushman offered a training space like no other, however it was in the pool where she was going to do her damage. The Boys and Girls Club at Asbury Park became her temple for perfecting her craft. The club would fill up at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. with swimmers from all ages. Cushman was her team’s leader in age and in talent, as she constantly placed in competitions like the Junior Olympics and sectionals during her junior year in high school.
When reflecting on whether she lives the American Dream “I would say so, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to live it.” Her “opportunity” was realized her junior year as, she states, “I was able to overcome failure. In the previous years, I hit a plateau that made me feel like a bad swimmer, but it was junior year that my coach, Danny Ascencio, taught me how to leave my ego at the door and just swim. With patience and time comes success”.
Her parents, Charlie and Muriel Cushman, made this opportunity possible as well with the constant time and effort they put towards Cushman’s swimming and emotional life. Swimming competitively did not only require early mornings but a constant life of weekends on the road going from Rutgers University to even as far as Buffalo, New York. As the family would pile into the big white Cadillac, the Cushman’s would drive to swim meets always including both mom and dad. Cushman’s parents made it clear that the love they have for swimming was created by the time they spent just being with their daughter, win or lose. No matter the weather or the time of the day, if there was a swimming event to attend, they would always pile into that Cadillac as a family and travel to wherever they had to be to see Cushman compete.
This long road through odd states across America finally landed on the woodsy campus of Drew University. When taking tours of different schools, there was never a change in cargo. Cushman’s parents would always be walking by her side, taking in all of the schools that wanted their daughter to swim for them. When stepping upon Drew, another family man, Head Coach Rich Munson, greeted the Cushmans. Munson offered the ability for Cushman to swim as long as she did what came as a given to her, bring effort. What Munson offered to her parents was too simple to pass up: the easily accessible opportunity to watch their daughter swim close to home.
After two gold medals, four silver, three individual and two relay school records broken after two swim seasons at Drew, Cushman now reflects on these awards as the culmination of all opportunities given by her family and school as earned rather than given. Cushman was voted by her teammates as team captain in 2017 just before her sophomore year. Drew’s swim team has just finished up their latest conference finals with Cushman taking home the school record and the gold medal in the 200 backstroke, as well as two silver medals in the 100 backstroke and the 200 individual medley, in which she broke the school records as well. Although the 2017-2018 swim season is over for her, Cushman has still has two more years to swim for Drew and live her American Dream.