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Monday, June 17
The Indiana Daily Student

sports water polo

Treading in water: Senior doesn't just graduate, gives up love she has had since childhood

Water Polo

Swim, she tells herself. Go.

With less than four minutes to go in the third period against Michigan, their biggest rival, Hanna Eimstad cuts through the water, surrounded by the rest the rest of the IU water polo team.

They get set, a teammate at the top looking for options. Hanna swims to the far corner, just right of the goal. She gets the ball, catching it above the water.

She’s done this hundreds, maybe thousands, of times — so much she doesn’t even have to think about it.

Hanna is a senior on the IU water polo team, and the last four years of her life have been defined by a sport few people in the Midwest have heard of, much less understand.

Like other IU student-athletes, she’s traded sleep and weekends, Little Five and time with friends for a chance to play for IU. Water polo is the only way she knows to define herself.

But in a few weeks, Hanna will be like any other IU senior. Finally, she’ll be forced to give up her sport, stepping into the void of the real world to figure out what to do next and who she is.
 
“I am done when I’m done here,” she said. “I don’t know what life’s like without a team.”

In the water, she runs down the checklist in her mind. Is there anyone else open? Should she pass?
 
She rises and flings. Flip of the wrist, ball to the corner of the net. Score. The team swims back on defense.

The crowd is screaming, but her mind is clear.

***

Hanna never saw herself here. She never really saw herself playing water polo in college, but she definitely never saw herself in Indiana. All she knew about the state was basketball and candy-striped pants.
 
She had other dreams. She always wanted to be a doctor.

Since she was young, she’s been playing sports. She was bored with swimming in sixth grade. Then she saw her brother playing water polo.

In the water, she felt at home. She loved the mental aspects, the feeling of being on a team. She loved knowing the plays, thinking of strategies and trying to stay one step ahead of everyone else. She loved being a player.

In high school, she led her team to third place in the state with an undefeated metro record. She was named MVP for three years. Senior year, she was first team all-state and all-league.

In the back of her mind, though, she always had another plan.

The University of Washington was her dream school. She’d always seen herself studying medicine there. They didn’t offer water polo, though, and Hanna wasn’t ready to give it up.
 
Senior year, she took a trip to Indiana.

Her first time on campus, it was freezing. She thought the trees with no leaves were ugly — not like the evergreens of Oregon. But beyond it all, she found a home. She saw a place for her.
 
She never looked back.

***

Hanna hung from the black handles above her, fighting the inevitable pull of gravity. Chalk lined her hands. Sweat darkened the front of her red T-shirt. Her muscles screamed as she tried to pull herself up, in a fight with her own body.

It was only 7:15 a.m., and as the rest of campus slept, Hanna and her teammates tore themselves apart. This was only their first practice of the day.

Most of the time, Hanna doesn’t think about the sacrifices she’s made as a student-athlete. She gets up at 7 a.m. for practice Tuesdays and Thursdays, lifts weights until 8 and is in the water at the Student Recreational Sports Center by 8:30. She swims until 10 and returns for another hour of water conditioning in the afternoon. On Wednesdays and Fridays, she swims for two and a half hours. If the team is around on the weekend, she swims then, too.
 
It isn’t the routine for most college seniors, but it’s the routine she’s followed.
“You don’t just miss practice because you’re tired,” Hanna said.

Academically, it’s hard, too.

Hanna is a biology major. With such a demanding schedule and a team that travels every weekend, there have been semesters in which she’s had to introduce herself to the professor of a Monday-Wednesday-Friday class and tell him she’ll miss one-third of the lessons.

In the airport or on the bus, there are times all she wants is sleep, but she has to do her work instead.
 
Her classmates aren’t always understanding. She’ll walk into a room, and someone will sniff the air.

“It smells like a pool,” they’ll say.

“It’s me,” she’ll reply.
 
If they find out she’s an athlete, they will ask
questions.

“Did you play water polo before college?” they’ll ask. “How do you get the horses in the pool?”

It’s a sport she’s trained for since she was about 11, what she dedicates her life to and the reason she came across the country to go to school in Indiana. To them, it’s something anyone can do — a silly sport with wet horses.

Hanna’s mom, Deborah, knows how much her daughter has sacrificed during the years and in college. She and Hanna’s dad fly out to watch her as much as they can.

“It’s kind of sad because I think Hanna missed out on some things because of her sport,” she said. “But I think she’ll always be involved with it in some way.”

Even with the typical late nights and not-so-typical college early mornings, Hanna knows it’s worth it.
 
“It’s a huge gift,” she said. “Not many students get to experience what it’s like to be a Big Ten athlete.

“I can’t imagine my four years without it. With all the times it was awful, it was good so many more.”

***

Sometimes, though, Hanna can be a normal student. This Wednesday, she’s just another woman out for bowling and hanging with her friends. It’s something from their IU bucket list — something they wanted to do before they graduate.
 
They also want to do a Tour de Franzia, do Open to Close at Kilroy’s BarNGrill on Kirkwood and go to a quarry.
 
It’s hard when they’re in season. Hanna tries to have a life outside her team, but a lot of her friends are still involved in IU Athletics.
 
Hanna stood to bowl her last frame
.
“Hanna should be good,” one of her friends said. “Her forearms are jacked.”
 
She threw the ball, finishing the game with a score of 69. They high-fived, laughing at how bad they were.
 
“It’s rally time right now! Put your rally cap on right now,” one of them said. They wanted food, but no one could decide which.

“Can we compromise on onion rings?” someone said. They added cheese fries, too.
Even on a Wednesday night, even away from everything else and just trying to be a normal senior, Hanna couldn’t fully escape. She still had practice at 7 a.m. the
next day.
 
Back in her seat, Hanna turned to her friend, a softball player.

“What would we do if we weren’t athletes?” Hanna said. “Like next year.”

***

The hallways of the North End Zone facility glare red. They’re covered with images of students decked out in IU gear, yelling or clapping or cheering at football games.
Plaques and posters line the walls, displaying achievements in every sport — high GPAs, All-Americans, placements on pro teams. These are IU Athletics’
accomplishments.

Though most students won’t ever see these areas, this is where Hanna’s life subsists. It’s a hub of athletics, and together, they form a bigger family. Her fellow athletes talk about who gets the coolest stuff and what music each team plays in the
weight room.

It’s one perk, and Hanna knows there are a lot. Whenever she needs medicine or a doctor, it’s right there for her. When she broke her nose this season, she got a mask fitted for her.
 
But still, when she’s walking through the facilities, she can’t help noticing the surroundings. There are huge pictures of the football team, a whole wall dedicated to them. Sometimes, when she’s walking through to put in two hours of studying or running the halls to warm up with her team, she wonders.

They’re treated like gods among men, and where is she? Everyone talks about how IU Athletics sucks lately, but her team won the Eastern Championship and went to NCAAs last year. They’re in the hunt for it again this year. Who sees that?
 
There’s a banner by the pool. CWPA Champions, it says. 2011. All Hanna can hope to do is add a 2012 to that banner.
 
“The IU water polo universe is very small,” IU Coach Barry King said. “I think we’re somewhere around 80 alumnae. It’s a small club to be part of, so you get some ownership of that.”

That, Hanna hopes, will be her quiet, lasting legacy.

***

The stands were quiet, tense. It was inevitable then. Michigan was going to win. The team had come back to take the lead 10-7. Hanna’s team would not take this game.

On the bench, Hanna sat. Her face was blank
.
Her team, mostly freshmen and sophomores, would have another shot at this. She wouldn’t. All that was left for her now was one last tournament and May 5 — graduation. Maybe NCAAs.

After that, she will have a summer — her first without practice in almost half her life.
 
She’ll get a job, maybe researching or at a hospital, and study for the MCAT. She’ll go back to school. She’ll send in a resume that isn’t only sports stuff. Eventually, she’ll come back, maybe to coach or play.

But this is it for her college career.

“I’ve been a water polo player for nine years of my life,” she said. “I’m excited to see how to define myself in some other way.”

The sport that’s been her life won’t be there anymore. The early mornings will fall away. The weekend flights and hotels and games won’t press her schedule anymore.
But she’ll find a new way, treading water until she gets there.

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