Athletes of the Week: Claire Dorris and Sammy Washburn

by Erica Clark

It’s been said that it takes a tenacious person to last four years as a college athlete. On Transylvania University’s swimming and diving team, this statement rings true for Claire Dorris and Samantha (Sammy) Washburn, the two remaining senior team members from a first-year recruiting class of seven.

From adjusting to a new coach and a fluctuating number of team members, to dealing with injuries and stress, the two swimmers have seen it all.

Claire Dorris

“I didn’t expect to encounter the obstacles we’ve had to overcome since I’ve been a swimmer at Transy,” said Dorris, a mid-distance breaststroker. “Athletes work hard and deal with personal obstacles but we’ve had to deal with much more.”

Washburn, a distance swimmer who has competed competitively since the second grade, has dealt with surprises as well.

Sammy Washburn

“I was intimidated freshman year,” said Washburn. “I came from programs that were so much deeper in high school that I wasn’t expecting to be one of the fast ones on the team. When I saw that I was, I put so much pressure on myself that it was awful. I expected myself to be better and not let my teammates down.”

One of the obstacles the two spoke of was the uncertainty that the recent hiring of a new head coach brought to the team. With a change in coach, changes in routines such as swimming yardage, weight routines and practice times inevitably followed.

Things still aren’t easy.

“There’s a lot of accountability which is hard for some to get used to,” said Washburn. “We actually get punished now. At first it was hard because we couldn’t get away with what we used to get away with. But the atmosphere is more positive and supportive. It’s definitely a different energy.”

Dorris, who has been swimming competitively since the third grade, described the discipline she has learned with new head coach Kyle Dunaway.

“We went from being expected to be mediocre to being expected to be more than we could be,” said Dorris. “There’s definitely frustration as a swimmer, but a different kind of frustration than what we’ve seen in the past. We don’t always want to do what we know will make us better, but this year we know that Kyle has a reason for everything.”

“Last (term) was hard for me because I was student-teaching,” said Washburn. “I was able to make it to practices but it was tough to balance the two. I would stress out, but this (term) I feel more comfortable talking to the coach.”

A second barrier the two faced was being part of a team with a constantly changing roster. This year especially, the team saw a significant drop in numbers. Dorris said that at first it was a discouragement but that she turned it into a challenge in terms of morale.

“The transition into this year has been the hardest having the most people to quit or to not come back into the season,” said Washburn. “It’s been harder to stay positive and to stick with it.”

“Over the course of the years, what affected me the most were the different kinds of athletes,” said Dorris. “I had to communicate with different sorts of attitudes each year. There were some toxic attitudes that were brought to the team, not only due to external factors but also because of the way different people reacted to different things on the team.”

“Each time someone has left, the team dynamic has changed,” said Washburn. “Sometimes it was good and sometimes it was bad. But we always had to get used to the missing people.”

“There was just a lot of unnecessary stress,” said Dorris. “And because we’ve been here for it all, it’s hit us the hardest.”

But the sudden drop in numbers this year forced them to demonstrate leadership and positive energy that didn’t go unnoticed.

“Sammy’s experience with student teaching has taught her to be a leader. She uses positive encouragement to motivate her teammates,” said assistant swimming coach Jill Southerlan.

“She is always cheerful no matter how hard the set is, or how bad she feels,” said junior teammate Tommy Stephens. “She is an amazing asset.”

“Claire has been someone I have looked up to since I joined the swim team my freshman year,” said sophomore teammate Lindsey Anderson. “She is an extremely hard worker and has led our team with positivity and perseverance.”

“Unfortunately, Claire, a.k.a. ‘Dory,’ has had a few injuries,” said Southerlan. “This year, she has learned to be more patient during her recovery.”

Dorris was confronted with a knee problem her sophomore year and heard that she would never be able to swim breaststroke again. But after surgery she overcame the injury and got back into the water.

“Claire and Sammy bring that sense of commitment that every coach is looking for in a student-athlete,” said Dunaway. “Together, these two have been through two coaches and have stuck it out because of their dedication to Transylvania swimming and diving.”

“I think people transitioned from feeling like they were a part of something that wasn’t worthwhile to understanding that everything they do has an impact on everyone else,” said Dorris. “We had to come to an understanding that we are going to be uncomfortable at times, knowing that it will lead to something better. We’ve seen the biggest evolution of a team that anyone has ever seen.”


One Response to Athletes of the Week: Claire Dorris and Sammy Washburn

  1. Emil Polashek says:

    Thank you for the excellent article, Erica. I found myself uncharacteristically interested in a story about athletes. Kudos to Claire and Sammy for their tenacity and positive attitude.

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