April 18, 2012
For former University of Arizona swimmer Justine Schluntz, 2010 was a big year. Amongst countless accolades, the NCAA Champion was named a Rhodes Scholar and became the Arizona's fourth NCAA Woman of the Year.
Now living in Oxford, England, one of the biggest adjustments Schluntz faced was making new relationships in her new life.
"It's not that people are unfriendly, but there's just a different sense that you get when talking to strangers. Whereas here, I'd be perfectly comfortable talking to somebody in the line at the grocery store," Schluntz said.
Schluntz looks back on her days as a Wildcat with some awe, "It's still crazy to me, that I was named a Rhodes Scholar," the Albuquerque, New Mexico native said. "It's an incredible honor and not just to be one but to say that I know hundreds of other Rhodes Scholars and to have those international connections of brilliant minds is an incredible honor."
Fortunately, the adjustment Schluntz faced in moving to a new environment was one faced by the other 32 Rhodes Scholars out of the United States, so she wasn't alone.
"We met in Washington D.C. for a week before heading out to England," Schluntz recalled. "So I actually had a little bit of a safety net with that group of people. Once we got there, there was a bit of culture shock but I was dealing with it with a group of friends by that point."
Unlike her time at Arizona, academics have taken much more precedence over her time in the pool.
"I swim a couple times a week for about an hour but it's nothing like the 20 hours I was doing [at Arizona]," Schluntz said. "It's incredible the amount of free time I have. Now, I don't know how I would ever go back to doing that, I don't know how I would find the time. It makes me wonder how, not just me, but all of the athletes do it. I guess it's just the way of life."
Thinking back to her time in Tucson, Schluntz realizes how special the university that she credits for preparing her for her life and career really is.
"I don't think I could pinpoint one thing that makes the UofA such a great place," Schluntz said. "Everything combined just feels like home, I don't know how else to explain it. The people that are here, the opportunities that are presented to students in general and especially student-athletes, you couldn't ask for a better opportunity. It's hard not to be successful when you're placed in that environment."
With that knowledge, there are some parts of her old routine that she still recalls often.
"The thing that I definitely miss the most about the UofA, especially the swim team and the athletics community is the sense of family. I don't really feel that anywhere else, that same sense of family," Schluntz said. "But I do still rely on the family that I've had at the UofA and the relationships that I've built here I still lean on a lot."
The sense of family could be considered one of the biggest lessons that Schluntz discovered when she started at Arizona.
"Coming out of high school, I viewed swimming as an individual sport," Schluntz recalled. "But as soon as I got here Frank (Busch) and the upperclassmen on the team made it clear that at Arizona swimming is not an individual sport but a team sport."
Teammates are one of the most important parts of competing on the college level, "You lean on your teammates, you trust your teammates, you use your teammates to yourself better and that, in turn, makes the team better. I was not just racing for myself but racing for the other girls on the team and feeling like we were, as a group, representing something bigger than ourselves."
Another lesson that Busch taught her was that enjoyment was one of the most important parts of swimming. "If you enjoy it, you'll be successful at it," Schluntz said. "It's much too easy to get stressed with it or put too much pressure on yourself or to feel too much pressure from other people. Frank told me to just enjoy it and you'll do fine, and it worked."
Of her countless accolades, one of the furthest on Schluntz's radar was to become NCAA Woman of the Year. Her dream came true, "I was hoping to qualify for the NCAA Championships," Schluntz said. "But, I think the expectations of the team and of the coaches were a lot higher than my personal expectations. So I'm lucky I found myself in a position where people saw the potential in me and convinced me I could be more than I expected."
Although the honor is an individual award, Schluntz also doesn't believe that becoming Arizona's fourth WOTY was completely her own doing.
"I happened to be on the same team, I came in as a freshman, and two of those three before me were already on the team, Lacey (Nymeyer) and Whitney (Myers)," Schluntz said. "Immediately, I found myself in an environment where I was taking their example and following it. So I am thrilled that I had the opportunity to represent the university like I saw them representing it. They were my role models when I got here so I'm glad I got to carry on the tradition."
Another important learning experience Schluntz gained at Arizona didn't come from her time in the pool, but in the year and a half she was unable to compete due to shoulder surgery.
"I wasn't able to compete until January of my sophomore year," Schluntz said. "That year and a half, I was able to train but not full-time. I felt a bit of a hole, I lost swimming, which was the most important thing in my life and I realized that couldn't stay the same. That's when I got involved in service activities. When I was able to swim again, I realized that it was something valuable enough that I couldn't just give it up."
Along with being a student-athlete, serving her community was equally important. "The community service I participated in gave me a new perspective," Schluntz said. "It made me realize what is actually important and what actually is worthy of spending your time on. It's very humbling to see that people in the community, especially young people, view us as role models. But that makes you aware that it's that much more important to be a good role model and to do things correctly because you realize they are watching."
Looking back, Schluntz would not have changed much about her Arizona experience. "It would be easy to say that the thing I would change, if I had to do it over again, would be to have watched over my body better and not been injured," Sculuntz said. "But, I think actually, when I reflect on it, that was what really turned it around and allowed me to excel so much."