Swimming in Her Own Lane: Kara’s Personal Growth Through Arts and Athletics
Welcome to The Art of Athletes, a blog series showcasing the underrated creative minds behind Pfeiffer’s athletes. In this interview, I will give you an insight into Kara Robertson's story and how both art and athletics have pushed her out of her comfort zone. As a result, I hope to spread awareness of the divided campus, and persuade you to have an open mind about the artists and athletes that surround you.
Currently, what art forms are you involved with?
I really enjoy writing poetry, painting, playing the ukulele or bass guitar and sometimes I'll pick up an acoustic guitar. I like to sing mostly by myself, but I have sung for a large crowd back in high school and that was a huge deal. I’ve never taken lessons for any of those instruments, but I remember wanting a ukulele so badly, so I got one and taught myself through Youtube. Oftentimes, I'll go on a tab website and look at songs, or I’ll do this thing where I shuffle through my playlist and find a song that I’d really like to learn. I’m kind of all over to place when it comes to art, but really it’s just what I pick up in the moment.
Kara playing a song for her dog on the ukulele to soothe her.
What sport do you currently play?
Currently, I swim at Pfeiffer. I’ve never had a coach place me in a specific event because they have always put me in any event that I was good at, but I really love the 100 yard butterfly and the 200 individual medley. This year I swam a lot of events, but I think Coach Flood will have me swimming distance in the future. Shockingly, I did not know how to swim until I was about 9 or 10 years old. As soon as I learned, I joined a summer swim league that was really recreational, but I wanted to quit after that season because of how bad I was. It made me feel crushed until I swam again the next summer and got a lot better. My 8th grade year, I improved a lot and my mom placed me in a swim league that was a little more prestigious.
When I got to high school, they did not have a swim team, but the bigger high school close by did. I emailed that coach before I entered my Freshman year, and they made an upper-man team that could practice with them, so I was able to swim throughout high school. As the years went on, I started questioning if I could go to college for swim, but I didn't take that seriously until my junior year when I began to get emails from colleges. I ended up getting an email from Pfeiffer and I wanted to be able to focus on being a student first, so I loved that aspect of the environment and came here. I plan on doing it all four years because it keeps me happy and sane.
Kara swimming at a meet her junior year of high school.
Have you ever participated in any other sport than swim?
It’s funny that you ask this question because I literally was not involved in anything until I joined the swim team. Usually people start in little leagues playing soccer or softball, but I remember being in Kindergarten when the school gave us flyers to take home for the soccer team and I asked my mom to join. My mom said, “Yeah, we will sign you up!” A few minutes later I asked, “Mom, do you have to sweat?” She said, “Yes, Kara.” Immediately I told her to forget about signing me up and I think what drew me to swimming was the aspect of not sweating.
The same year that I started swimming year-round in 8th grade, I joined the cheerleading team at my school and became a base. It was definitely an adjustment. I don't even know what possessed me to join the cheer team, but I did and I stuck with it throughout high school. I enjoyed the attention and it was nice to perform and put on a happy face when I was struggling with being so closed off and shy. It was so opposite from who I was, but it definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me more outgoing. Sadly, my cheerleading days are over, but swim is my main focus at this point.
How did the cheerleading lifestyle affect or improve your swim skills?
It was truly insane. Going into high school, I was all over the place all the time. When I first started cheerleading in 8th grade, I would go from swim practice to a game, but I really loved the feeling of being busy. It not only kept me from getting too sad, because I do struggle with depression and heavy thoughts, but it kept me from focusing on any of the negative. It also definitely kept me in shape because I was either throwing people in the air or swimming back and forth in the pool.
Kara and her mom at a cheer competition her junior year of high school.
Was there anyone who influenced or inspired you to participate in your sports or your art?
I can't say that anything influenced me, but one day my mom said, “You need to do something other than school all of the time. I don’t want you to get bored.” So, in that way, she pushed me to do it and I’m so thankful she did. I really don't know what I would be without swimming now.
When it comes to music, my dad is into music more than any of us in the family. At a very young age, he wanted me to pick up a guitar or play on the keyboard. I remember him telling me that it was in my DNA and I would be good at it if I just practiced at it. I guess I do have a natural way with music, but he inspired me to want to learn more about it. My dad wasn’t the only influence though. My mom is always listening to different music and she played a part in introducing me to music while growing up as well.
A celebrity influence would HAVE to be Lana Del Ray. If you know me, you know she molded my personality at a young age (which may or may not be a good thing). Another person would have to be Bon Jovi because my mom and dad raised me on his music.
With writing, I’ve always looked up to my English teachers throughout school. Every year I had crazy cool English teachers and we always had these relationships that were unlike my other teachers. I remember my 7th grade English teacher telling me to write a book to enter it into this competition. Well, I wrote most of the book, but I never entered it. Sure, it was fun, but I wouldn’t have done it unless my teacher encouraged me to do it. Those are the ways in which my teachers inspired me to pick up writing. I’ve always been pretty artistic, so painting also came naturally to me. Growing up, I really centered my life around appreciating the arts and what came out of them.
Kara's dad showing her how to play a song on the guitar.
Tell me about a time where you felt great loss while playing a sport?
Honestly, I’d have to say I feel great loss a lot of the time. I am so hard on myself because I started late in swimming and I was always surrounded by people who I felt were better than me. I continuously beat myself up about it and, for a while there, it got to me so badly that I kind of took it easy for awhile and reminded myself that I was in the sport to have fun and because I love it. I think that's why I enjoy Pfeiffer so much; because it's small, I can enjoy my sport, and have fun all at the same time.
The year before I went into high school was a really pivotal time for me when it came to taking swimming seriously. Every meet I would have the worst anxiety and I would dread going into the races. Sadly, I would puke a lot before because I was so nervous and I wouldn’t really hang around anyone. I didn't have many friends on the team because it was so big and the club meets were insane. Once I got to high school, it was a whole shift and my outlook on swimming changed. I met really good people on the team and it was fun to enjoy it with people you enjoyed. Now that I am in college, I have a swim team that is super close. We literally see each other 24/7, so the anxiety is pretty much gone for me. It's crazy because when I began the journey in middle school, I didn't want to be there at all, but look at me now.
Have you ever experienced great loss when participating in your art form?
I don't think I’ve ever felt great loss from art, because I really use it as my therapy. It’s pretty personal and my own thing I get to enjoy privately. The only times I really show it to people is when it’s part of a project or something I nominate myself for. I don't like to feel obligated to be artsy, so I practice it on my own time and when I feel led to.
"I don't like to feel obligated to be artsy, so I practice it on my own time and when I feel led to."
How would you define the first time trying your sport?
The word I would use to define my first experience in swimming would be disappointing. I was so embarrassed and literally drowning. I felt defeated because the way I compare myself to others got pretty toxic at one point. I was so young and didn’t know what I was doing, and everyone around me looked like olympians compared to me in the water. I mean, I could barely make it to the other end of the pool without being out of breath. I remember not wanting to ever go back after the first summer of trying it, but I did time and time again.
Kara swimming at a championship meet at age 10.
Even though the experience was bad, you kept at it and you love it. How did that shape the person that you are today?
Well, I was so determined to get better that I just did it until I was satisfied. Not completely satisfied, but way better than I was before. That is the kind of person that I see myself as now, because with anything I do, it drives me crazy if I’m not good at it, so I will continue to practice. I take that same approach with everything I do in my life. When I got my ukulele for the first time, I played it for 6 hours straight until my hands were on fire and almost bleeding. I wanted to be so good. It's the same way with painting a picture that takes me so long, but I try to perfect it. It has shaped me into someone who is determined.
What is it that you get from art/sports?
When it comes to art, it is a sense of expressing myself or just having fun. When I’m playing the ukulele or the guitar, it's nice to hear the sounds and it's pleasing to the ears. When I write, it lets me get out my feelings and with painting it's just satisfying to see the end results.
For sports, I like being a part of a team and being in shape. It may sound only cosmetic, but I also love being there for others and having that same support back. Keeping my mind and body healthy is extremely important for me, so those are all the benefits that I take from my talents.
In what ways would you consider swimming your therapy?
Right now, because the season is over, my mood has changed drastically. I’m such a happier and positive person when I am swimming and it boils down to all of that dopamine being released. As soon as I stop swimming, it takes only a couple days for me to get back in those places that I don’t want to be. I can't get these feelings from just going on a run or working out in the gym. Being in the water and gliding through it is soothing and eases my mind. Now that I actually have technique, it's nice to be able to do turns and get lost in the feeling of the water.
"Now that I actually have technique, it's nice to be able to do turns and get lost in the feeling of the water."
In what ways would you consider your art form(s) to be a therapy?
The poetry aspect of my life is what I can consider my most effective therapy. I don't tend to share my work with others because my writing is pretty special and private to me. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and have this sudden urge to put words down. Usually, I’ll reach for my phone and type some stuff out and won’t read it until the next day. When I do wake up to read it, I always take a step back and say, “Wow, that’s what you were feeling? I’m glad you got that out.” That’s really how it has always been since I’ve started my poetry journey. I like to write things that are sappy and super dramatic, especially since my Tumblr phase in middle school. It’s definitely the quickest way to get my feelings out and see them in their artsy and dramatic form. With music, I consider it pretty similar when it comes to being my therapy. I love to just play and forget about my worries.
A painting that Kara did for a project in class based on the movie "A Clockwork Orange."
The dynamic between artists and athletes at Pfeiffer has not always been viewed as the best, so tell me a little about your experiences with this in your high school.
At my high school, there were not many artsy people, and if they were, they were not outward about it. It's a super rural and small high school that is very similar to the environment at Pfeiffer. The biggest thing we noticed at my school was if you were good at athletics or if you were an artist, you had your own clique and probably didn’t talk to a lot of people. However, it wasn’t like there was a disconnect, I think we all just vibed. If you liked to play guitar, you played guitar. If you liked to swim, then you swam. There was a mix of the two here and there, but not many.
Considering that, what do you notice about the relationship between athletes and artists here at Pfeiffer? Were you expecting it to be different?
Honestly, I feel like I cannot say much on this because most of my experience here has been shaped by the honors program. Living in Cline is separate from everything at Pfeiffer, so that has impacted my experience here greatly. Really, I don’t consider myself an athlete before other things because I just like to give myself the title of a nerd. From what I can tell, everyone seems super laid back and I have a positive outlook on the relationship between the two here because I don't feel as if I’m in the midst of it. I think the athletes are more united and if you are a part of the arts then it seems more scattered, but I am scattered from the general population myself.
Kara holding the trophy that the Pfeiffer Women's Swim Team won at the Sun Coast Swimming Conference Championship.
What do you notice, what are the trends, and what is different from your high school experience compared to Pfeiffer?
At my high school it was like, who can do the most things and be good at them? We were all doing a sport and trying to be the top of our class at the same time. We may have threw in something extra on the side like creative writing or art classes, but not much. I see a lot of that here as well because people are involved in so many things at once. I think it is very similar to my high school when it comes to trends and the things I noticed about the relationship. At Pfeiffer, I think that some people may try to prove themselves more to be successful, but I think it’s only the people that are like me and very competitive with themselves and what they do.
In your opinion, what does it mean to be both an artist and an athlete?
It’s exactly like Hannah Montana, you get the best of both worlds. Like I’ve said before, I struggle with depression and thoughts that weigh me down, but both activities keep me out of it and I notice if I go too long without them, I feel myself crumbling. Being both an artist and an athlete is such a great combination because the line between them blurs. I almost have to ask myself, is swimming so physical or is it an art? They are very connected for me in a lot of ways. While I swim I practice abstract thinking, especially when I am in a rhythm. I like to relate swimming to the term synesthesia because all of my senses just connect to one another. That may sound so hippie-ish, but that's what makes me the happiest person I can be.
Kara swimming for her club team in 8th grade.
"I almost have to ask myself, is swimming so physical or is it an art?"
Kara singing and playing the ukulele at her high school's May Day graduation celebration.
What is the story behind this video of you singing and playing the ukulele?
We have a celebration called May Day that we have done for 75 years. Basically, it is to honor the seniors and you can sign up to do a musical tribute where you get up and sing whatever you want. For the tiny town of Baxter, Tennessee, it felt like millions of people came to this celebration. The entire town shows up to hear about the best things that the seniors have done and we all dress the best we have ever dressed. It’s a huge celebration and we even have a crowning ceremony for the May Queen.
I signed up and auditioned to sing “Good Riddance” by Green Day because it's appropriate for us seniors who were graduating and going into different areas of the world. Not only did I choose it for it’s meaningful lyrics, I picked it because my uncle who passed away sang it at his high school graduation. He actually died of a drug overdose recently and I wanted to remember him by singing that song at my graduation. Luckily, I did not cry while I was performing it, but I remember watching my family cry in the stands. Performing it in front of all of my classmates and people I had never met was a huge deal for me and I fought it for awhile. I told myself that I was not the best singer, but I still decided to do it because it meant something to me and it was special.
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