Adam Pinson does the butterfly stroke at Carnegie Mellon. (Photo courtesy of Pinson)

Electrical engineering shocks swimmer out of sport

The stress of an electrical engineering major at one of the top 10 engineering colleges in the country led Adam Pinson, ‘12, to make a difficult decision: quit swimming, his passion for the past 14 years.

“(The decision) was gut wrenching,” Pinson said.

The realization that he was going to have to quit swimming, the sport in which he has been involved since age 2, came to Pinson after he attended Carnegie Mellon’s career fair in September.

Because of the time he put into swimming, Pinson couldn’t focus on school his freshman year. As a result, his grade point average was relatively poor, he said.

Pinson had to miss many of the study sessions organized by friends or TAs because he was not allowed to skip swim practice.

There were about 18 hours of practice every week, not including meets, he said. Practice took place at least once every day, with the exception of Sunday.

In addition to practices, Pinson took four to five classes a semester. As a result, he slept only five to six hours.

“Freshman year there was a three-week period where I got four hours of sleep a night,” Pinson said.

He said he considered himself lucky if he was asleep by midnight. Three days a week, Pinson had to be at morning practice by 5:30 a.m.

Adam Pinson, middle center, begins a race. (Photo courtesy of Pinson)
Adam Pinson, middle center, begins a race. (Photo courtesy of Pinson)

In addition, when meets were away from campus, the swimmers left Friday morning and didn’t return until Sunday night.

For the most part, students could get work done on the bus rides to and from meets, Pinson said. However, once they were at the meets, it was more difficult to keep up because they needed to make sure they slept enough to perform well.

That’s why only about one third of the swimmers that join their freshman year are still on the team as juniors, Pinson said.

And there are only three students on the 31-member men’s swim team who are majoring in electrical or computer engineering, he said.

Some professors were willing to give extensions on homework and make-up days for student athletes. However, in smaller classes, teachers were less willing to make adjustments for just one or two students.

“When I was gone for a championship meet, I had to take my econ midterm at the hotel under the supervision of my coach,” Pinson said.

A Life of Swimming

When Pinson talked to the interviewers at the college fair, many handed back his resume after he told them his GPA.

Some had specific GPAs that they were looking for while others knew that their employers weren’t going to look at students with low GPAs. Even when Pinson explained that he was a student athlete, there was not much they could do.

Pinson saw no other option than to quit because he was at Carnegie Mellon for school, not swimming, he said.

“This is something that I should have realized before September,” Pinson said. “But it was better to handle it in October than after getting kicked out of school.”

His parents supported his decision and were proud of him.

“Swimming was not going to be (Adam’s) career,” his mother, Barbara, said. “We knew it was going to end at one point, and we knew it was coming.”

Since swimming had been a large part of Pinson’s life, it was a significant change for him.

In high school, Pinson swam 19-22 hours a week, not including meets.

He was selected for the Sierra Nevada Scholar Athlete Award and Grand Prix Series meets in high school.

Pinson applied Early Decision to Carnegie Mellon and was in contact with the swim coach there both before and during the admission process.

And when he visited the school, Pinson, along with attending some classes, met with their swim team. “That day I felt like I lost a really integral part of myself,” Pinson said. “I’ll openly admit I cried.”

Pinson said he misses the relationship he had with the other swimmers. He didn’t realize how much he enjoyed the team aspect until he quit, Pinson said.

However, Pinson hopes to join a master’s Swim Team, a team for swimmers 18 and older, after he graduates.

Pinson’s Sister

Claire Pinson, an Olympic hopeful, plans to continue swimming in college despite her brother’s decision. (Photo by Cissy Shi)
Claire Pinson, an Olympic hopeful, plans to continue swimming in college despite her brother’s decision. (Photo by Cissy Shi)

Pinson’s sister Claire, a junior, has also been swimming throughout high school and was chosen to attend the junior nationals last summer.

But Pinson and his parents predict Claire will continue swimming throughout college.

“Claire manages her time better (than Adam), and she is planning on doing a major (international relations or language) that is more compatible with swimming than engineering,” Barbara said.

“Adam’s strong point is doing things thoroughly and correctly,” Claire said. “I miss a lot of details, but I get the stuff done faster.”

But Claire may spend even more time on her sport. While Carnegie Mellon is an NCAA Division III school, Claire is looking at only Div. I schools. Claire also hopes to get a swimming scholarship.

But if she has to choose between swimming and school, Claire will also choose school.

“I really, really, really want to go to the 2016 Olympic trials,” Claire said.

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