A brisk Santa Barbara morning gives rise to shades of dreary gray. The sound of splashing bellows across dormant hallways, through the narrow bike paths and past jaded students conjuring fine memories of the blissful sleep they’ve left behind. The echo increases as one wanders closer to the campus pool, where the UCSB swimming and diving team begins its day.
Among these men and women who brave the cold merely for the love of the sport and the passion that accompanies competition, is none other than senior Andrea Ward.
Ward began her swimming career at the age of four in an attempt to follow in the footsteps of her older brother. She began to swim on a summer recreational team, seeing it as nothing more than a fun way to spend her time. She would continue her swimming through club teams, and later via her high school swim team, before finally committing to become a Gaucho.
Through the first three years of her collegiate career, Ward had been a dependable contributor and a continually emerging talent. This year, however, she simply took her swimming to another level. Recent highlights include placing first in six out of the seven events she participated in at conference Championships and setting a new school record with the fourth best 100-yard butterfly time at the NCAA swimming championships.
“I think when we look back on this season for Andrea, we are going to see an athlete that every coach dreams of having,” Head Coach Gregg Wilson said. “She has had the year every swimmer dreams of and it only comes along once every five or six years.”
The statistics can be read and re-read, analyzed and over-analyzed, but in the end it is the person and not the numbers that make Ward truly exceptional.
From the moment that one is able to share a dialogue with her, it becomes apparent that Ward is one of the most caring and genuine people you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting. She greets with a smile and strives to build a relationship based on something more than the superficial discourse that seems to hinder most encounters.
“I enjoy getting to know people on a deeper level, and I hope to care for as many people as I can,” Ward said. “I especially care for my teammates. We go through a lot together and they are all like sisters to me.”
Ward’s thoughtful approach has helped construct the impregnable foundation that has aided in the women’s swimming and diving team finishing with a final dual-meet record of 8-2 and taking second place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championships.
“When you see your teammates cheering you on in that last 50 yards, that is what gets you going,” Ward said. “Even in an exhausting practice, we still cheer each other on and try to remind each other to focus on the technical things. After all, misery loves company.”
Through her continual demonstration of compassion and kindness out of the pool, Ward establishes the most fundamental juxtaposition that seems to materialize in every great athlete. A transformation occurs in the water where compassion melds into a burning desire to compete and kindness becomes increasingly masked by each stroke that splices the surface. This ability is what has led her to an astounding four MPSF/Turbo Female Athlete of the Week awards this season and propelled her to achieve an early automatic qualifying time for the NCAA championships.
“Determination is definitely one of the most important qualities to have in a swimmer,” Ward said. “You can’t force yourself to wake up at 5:30 in the morning and jump in a cold pool if you aren’t determined to accomplish great things.”
Ward’s perpetual determination and strength come directly from her faith. A proud Christian, she is able to count on her relationship with God to get her through the tough times and help her to enjoy the splendor of the good ones.
“I read the Bible a lot and Scripture is what inspires me,” Ward said. “I needed something to look to and realizing all of the little things I have to be thankful for is what keeps me going.”
The key words of inspiration for Andrea this year have come from Ephesians 3:20-21 and are as follows: “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in Christ Jesus.”
A lot of life has to do with the legacy one leaves behind. Being remembered for the records you shattered and the decorations you have earned in such a grueling sport may be principal for some, but not for Ward. She only wishes to be remembered by how she was able to reach people and the impact she had on their lives.
“When people think back on their college career and ask themselves who influenced them or impacted their life in any way, I’d like to be somebody they think of,” Ward said. “I really could care less about the victories and awards, I just care about the people.”
Ward has helped to redefine not only what it means to be a student athlete, but also what it means to be a Gaucho. Her altruistic philosophy towards life is nothing short of inspiring and is all too refreshing. If one ever runs into this humble competitor on campus, be sure to flash her a grin and know that you are in the presence of an extraordinary individual.
“These kind of kids don’t come around too often,” Wilson said. “I am lucky, our program is lucky, and our department is lucky. Our campus community has been very fortunate to have Andrea Ward because she is utterly outstanding.”
A version of this article appeared on page 14 of April 2nd’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo courtesy of ucsbgauchos.com