Women's Swimming: Kenyon swimmer develops heart for the Middle East after dad's deployment
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Haley Townsend was a freshman in high school, and her dad, Todd, was deployed to Kuwait and Iraq with the Indiana National Guard.
He was so far away, and in a place she didn’t know much about and certainly didn’t understand. The experience opened her eyes, but in high school, the opportunities to learn more were limited.
Then she got to Kenyon, and a whole new world of possibilities opened up. Literally. The memory of Todd’s deployment stuck with her, and she chose to concentrate in Middle East studies. Townsend not only took up the Arabic language, she fell in love and excelled in it.
She studied abroad in Morocco in the fall of 2014, and also interned last summer at the Middle East Policy Council in Washington D.C.
As the student-athlete with the highest GPA at the 2014 DIII swimming and diving national championships, she was honored with the prestigious Elite 89 award as a sophomore. Now a senior, she recently received word that her application as a Fulbright Scholar had been accepted.
She wanted to explore a different part of the region, so she applied to teach in Turkey. That may or may not happen, due to obvious security concerns.
“They (her parents) have been supportive,” said Townsend, who finished twenty-eighth out of fifty-four swimmers here Wednesday in the 50 freestyle. “My dad’s former military, so he’s naturally hesitant, I think, about my travels.
“My parents are trying to be supportive, while they would probably be happy if I didn’t take it. I’m kind of playing a little bit of a waiting game, so I don’t have to fully commit to it until I’m given my school placement in the country.”
What she wants to actually do with her studies is the trick. While she enjoyed the experience in Washington, it wasn’t quite up her alley. Grad school for international education, international development or energy studies are also possibilities.
“I’m not entirely sure if I’m necessarily going to go into foreign policy,” Townsend said. “I’m hoping that by taking this teaching experience in Turkey ... I enjoy teaching a lot. I taught Arabic at Kenyon, so I really enjoy teaching. So perhaps it will be international education or something along those lines.”
Townsend, who celebrates her birthday March 17, is a veteran on what is quite a youthful squad here this week. Of eighteen qualifiers – seventeen swimmers and one diver – seven are freshmen. Three more are sophomores.
While they might be young, they’re also very good. After Wednesday’s first day of competition, Kenyon trailed leader Emory by just eight points.
“We have five seniors, so that’s a pretty solid number,” Townsend said. “Most of us seniors have been multiple years to this meet, and so we have a nice balance of experience swimmers and also some newcomers. I think it’s working out just fine.”
Emory has won the last six DIII women’s swimming and diving national championships, but Kenyon isn’t exactly a newcomer to this stage, either. The school won every title between 1984 and 2000, and then three more in a row from 2002 to 2004.
Still, focusing on what has taken place in the past could spell disaster for the future. That’s why head coach Jess Book preaches that each and every year is a fresh slate of new opportunities.
“Every team is a new team,” Townsend said. “Every year is different. You have a different vibe, a new mix of people. You see that across the board from all the other competing teams as well. You have to go in with a fresh set of eyes and ready heart every year.”
With that in mind, the team will take every race as it comes.
“We’re trying to go in without too many expectations,” Townsend said. “We just want to race, take each race one thing at a time and get excited for everybody that’s swimming. We don’t want to think too much about points every day. We just want to go out and do our thing.”