Despite the competitiveness of the NESCAC and the amount of time student athletes here at Trinity must devote to their sport in order to succeed, there are many opportunities away from competition for athletes to make the most of their academic experience during their time on campus. This can be seen when looking at the experience of Catherine Poirier, a senior on the women's swim team. In the fall of her junior year, she decided to go abroad to Argentina, meaning that she would miss the beginning of the season, but still return in time for the team's training trip in January and the NESCAC Championship meet in February. However, following her semester in Argentina, the biochemical engineer discovered the opportunity to travel to Tanzania with a program called "Engineers Without Borders" which prompted her to take the year off completely from swimming to take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity.
Catherine and the three other Trinity students she went to Tanzania with had been planning out the designs for the project and receiving feedback from the program for a while before their proposal was finally passed. Their job upon arrival was to build new bathrooms for a church and preschool using the designs they created. The church, as well as where Catherine and the other students were staying, was located in a community at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, which offered plenty incentive to explore and travel the area during their free time. They would usually work from nine to five each day at the parish, centered on a lot of physical labor. "Everything we were doing was totally new to us, but luckily we received a lot of help from a professional engineer who assisted us with different calculations about the structure of the building and what not," Catherine stated. A local maintenance group helped them lay down cement and piping, making the project an all around team effort.
By the time the project was done, they successfully installed new, complete bathrooms with porcelain toilets and sinks, a huge improvement from the almost nonexistent, unsanitary bathrooms they had before. Catherine and the others were also able to work with the Tanzanian children in the classroom and help out their teachers in educating them about personal hygiene and hand washing now that they were exposed to real sinks. "On the last day, we got to go to one of the services at the church where we talked to everyone about the experience and they expressed thanks to us and presented us with a gift. It was pretty rewarding knowing that they enjoyed us staying there and that they were thankful for the finished product after all the work we put in. Overall it was an amazing experience."
Engineers Without Borders has had a relationship with this same community for 6 years now, making the trip a comfortable experience for everyone involved. "Since we spent so much time at the parish each day, we formed sort of a little family with the people there, and got to know them really well," Catherine said as she discussed the strong relationship all the engineers built with the community. "We added the friends we made there on Facebook and still talk to them often. They let as know about what's going on in their personal lives as well as how the project we finished is holding up," Catherine added.
Catherine expressed how, as great as her experience in Tanzania was, it was definitely tough not being able to swim for her junior season, missing out on the team aspect of it all. But she was able to jump right back into it by lifting with the team last spring. "The team has always been a family to me and they welcomed me back right away. It was a very cohesive process," Catherine stated.
The swim team is currently doing better than they have done in over 25 years, and a lot of their success can be considered a result of the leadership provided by Catherine and the rest of the senior class. "Thinking back to freshman year, everyone in my class can remember how much we looked up to the seniors, so we are just trying to replicate the same effect on the current underclassmen, hoping to leave the program in good hands," Catherine stated while discussing her role on the team as a senior. "Despite our success so far this season, I feel like we are still considered underdogs in the NESCAC, so it is always nice to show up and surprise other teams with what we have," she added. Her and her coaches were very excited for Catherine to return this year to fill the spot as top breaststroker on the team, a position she has proved she deserves.
Head swim coach, Carlos Vega, describes Catherine as the "quintessential student athlete." Catherine is also involved in other extracurricular activities, including the Society of Women Engineers – of which she is the Vice President, Relay for Life, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and working in the admissions office. "Considering all that Catherine does from swimming, to school, to everything else, it really speaks to her character and shows how she has been able to manage her time so efficiently. She has a great future ahead of her with engineering, considering how committed she is to her field, and I wouldn't be surprised if we hear about her in the news at some point. She always performs at the highest level possible. Looking at how well she has done swimming-wise this year, it is nice as a coach to have seen all the work she put in paying off," Coach Vega stated. He also praised the senior swimmers for being a huge part of the revitalization of the swim program he has been working on since he started at Trinity two years ago. "They've bought into the new philosophy I am trying to build," he added.
Catherine and the rest of her team have high hopes for the NESCAC Championship meet, the climax of their season, which is only two weeks away. From the looks of it, they're well prepared and ready to end their season on a high note.
Written by Chandler Solimine '19