My name is Taras Polakoff and I am the first athlete to compete for Babson while studying abroad.
I am from Orange County, California, a junior on Babson's Swimming and Diving Team, and am currently studying abroad at The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
Coming into freshman year, I knew I had to make the most of my time at Babson College. When the time came around to apply for LSE, I knew I could not pass up on the opportunity to continue to further enhance myself as an individual whether it be academically, athletically, or culturally.
It has been seven months now since I've started my life in London and I can truly say this experience has influenced me for the better. I have been studying at one of the top universities in the world and traveling all over Europe experiencing new cultures - all while making life-long friends.
I love swimming. I have been swimming for more than half of my life and plan to continue for the rest of it. When I decided to study abroad, I did not think twice about swimming abroad. I knew I could not give up the sport that brings so much joy and happiness to my daily life. And this is why I decided to do something that no one has ever done before - to compete for Babson while studying abroad. On top of that, I wanted to do it my way. I did not want to take the easy way out to join a local team and train with a group. I wanted to train myself.
With the help of my long-time coach, David Johnson, I developed a personalized training plan. A plan that would be solely based around my events that I would be swimming at meets. More specifically, I adapted a training style called USRPT (Ultra Short Race Pace Training) in which I would train exclusively at race pace in each of my individual events for the duration of the entire practice. This allowed my practices to be more efficient and in turn shorter than usual which helped me fit swimming into my overall schedule.
Every day I would travel 45 minutes one-way on the Tube to dive into the historic London Olympic Pool. It was not easy training completely on my own as I had to write my own practices and push myself without a coach or my teammates around. This truly has made me appreciate the work that my coaches have done for me in the past and the environment that my teammates have created.
I flew back to Boston to compete twice this year: Gompei Invitational at WPI in December and NEWMAC Championships at MIT in February. The original plan did not have me swimming at Gompei this year but instead, training with the team at our annual training trip in Florida. But as I was training in London in the fall, I just had that itch to race again and struggled with the fact that my next (and only meet) would be in late February. That's when I decided to compete twice this year.
With all this, I was able to achieve one personal best, a handful of near bests, and a good amount of points for the team. Everyone thought I was crazy to do this but look...I did it! Most importantly, I truly enjoyed this. I loved the challenge. I loved the journey. And throughout this all, I've learned so much about myself and built the confidence that I could do absolutely anything.
I want my story to be shared so that other student-athletes can see that it is possible to have an enormously rich study abroad experience and still be able to train and compete at a high level in their sport. I hope that I have inspired you and that you know that if you put your mind to it, you can do anything! #MambaMentality