Senior Emma Hunt Has Led the UCSB Women’s Swim and Dive Team Even During Injury

Nowhere is leadership more necessary than in Division I college athletics. Being a college athlete requires sacrifice, dedication, commitment and perseverance. A constant eye for the prize and a team-first mentality are imperative skills when one is looked up to by an entire group.

Senior swimmer Emma Hunt fulfills every criteria of great leadership, and has been as inspirational a student-athlete as anyone to step on campus over her four years on the UCSB swimming and diving team. Even in the face of a tragedy that ended her career, Hunt’s leadership and inspirational example was the glue that held the women’s swimming and diving team together.

“She’s been an amazing team captain and overall teammate in general for the past four years that she’s been on the team,” co-captain and roommate Sophia Yamauchi said. “She always knows how to be there for her teammates and she backed up her dedication by putting her all into the pool every time she got in to race.”

As far as athletes go, Hunt was born to be a leader. She was captain of her high school team for her last three years and led her team to a league championship every year she competed. She was a four-time MVP, four-time CIF qualifier and Monterey County Swimmer of the Year in 2008 and 2009. However, despite massive success in high school, Hunt was not a top recruit.

“I remember her coming here as a freshman,” Head Coach Gregg Wilson said. “She wasn’t the fastest swimmer in the world at first, and she joined the team as a walk-on. But she had incredible character, intelligence and work ethic and quickly established herself as a key member and positive influence on the team.”

Hunt found herself a spot on the team as a freshman competing in the freestyle races and relays. She enjoyed success and showed promise in her practice and competition times early on. Hunt surpassed expectations and established herself as a regular on the team by the end of her freshman year. She continued to learn and be a supportive teammate throughout her first two years.

“I was mostly a vocal leader my first year or two,” Hunt said. “I wanted to support my teammates but I didn’t want to take a veteran’s spot on the team.”

Hunt broke out with her best season in her third year at UCSB. After numerous top-10 finishes throughout the season, Hunt made her mark in the record books at the MPSF Swimming Championships. She was the anchor for the 800-yard freestyle relay that set a school record and propelled the Gauchos to an upset victory.

“Emma was unreal that day. I had never seen her swim that fast before,” Wilson said. “She just exploded onto the scene and upset a much better UC Davis team in an event that we never win.”

Her performance in the conference championships and her leadership skills prompted Wilson to name her team captain for her senior season. With Hunt leading the way, everyone had high hopes for 2012-2013.

“She always set a good example, in training, in the pool, in the classroom, and out in Isla Vista,” Wilson said. “It was almost like having an extra coach, but someone who could be a go-between for the players and coaches. We felt great going forward knowing we had Emma on our team.”

A horrible shoulder injury has unfortunately limited Hunt’s athletic ability during her senior year. In January, she was restricted to out-of-the-pool activities with an eye on championships in March.

“We knew we needed her, especially for the relays,” Wilson said. “She wanted to be in the pool so bad, and she kept working hard and training to recover from her injury and stay in shape. She was an incredible team captain the whole time.”

But when the time came for a decision to be made, the medical results were not as they had hoped. The liquid filling up her bones was causing so much stress and tension on her arm and shoulder that Hunt could have suffered a devastating injury just from bumping up against a wall. Two days before conference championships, Hunt could not raise her arm out of the pool, and her swimming career had ended prematurely.

“Her true character came to form in many ways, especially up to and during championships,” Wilson said. “At the meet, her arm was in a sling and she was grimacing with every movement. But she still cheered as loud as anyone and supported the team with a smile on her face the whole time. Despite bitter disappointment that she couldn’t compete, she still stepped up and energized her team with her uplifting energy.”

Despite a heartbreaking end to an impressive career, and an arm that cannot yet rotate 360 degrees, Hunt remains ever-positive and inspiring. She has taken her experience as team captain and will apply it while continuing to be a leader and a positive example. Hunt is currently a junior varsity coach at Dos Pueblos High School in Santa Barbara, and after graduation she will be moving to Dallas to take part in the prestigious Teach For America program.

“Even after I leave, I’ll never forget how much I loved this place,” Hunt said. “My team is like my family, and my time in Santa Barbara has been some of the best years of my life.”


 A version of this article appeared on page 9 of April 3rd, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus