Swimmer Prioritizes People

Kelsey Scott reaches out at UGA, co-leading a Bible study on her swim team.

  • by Katie Croft
Photo by Guy Gerrard

Crouching at the pool’s edge, every muscle in Kelsey Scott’s body waits in trained suspense.

A shrill whistle sounds. The clock starts.

Lunging forward, the 21-year-old long-distance swimmer sprays water as she breaks the pool’s surface.

Kelsey developed a positive reputation as a lover of people early in her college career at the University of Georgia.

Her life revolves around people. Her apartment is fondly called “Game Central,” and her bedroom is decorated in UGA red, black and white. The wall near her desk is wallpapered with letters from friends, taped into rows spanning from ceiling to floor.

Ratcheting the top mattress of her IKEA bed up into the air, Kelsey shovels a mountain of clean laundry off the floor and into the hidden cavern where a box-spring traditionally rests.

In Kelsey’s mind, there may not be time to fold laundry, but there is always time for people.

Coach Jack Bauerle, who served as head coach for the 2008 USA Women’s Olympic team in Beijing, says he looks for this other-centered quality when recruiting women to swim for the UGA team.

“You want to get a sense of whether they are about themselves or about other people,” states Coach Jack, who has coached championship-winning teams at UGA for 30 years. “I look for kids who want the team to do well.”

Kelsey’s commitment to her sport and her team remained steadfast throughout college, but during her sophomore year, Kelsey began thirsting for relationships that led her to a deeper understanding of Jesus.

She found those relationships through Team United, the UGA athletic ministry that includes Athletes in Action, Cru’s sports ministry.

“I wasn’t putting in as much effort to be around my team, and my attitude in the pool suffered,” she says. Her excitement for the sport waned, race times suffered.

The clock never lies.

The last meet of the season, Kelsey’s long-distance-training coach approached her, saying he expected more from her. “He told me I needed to get my priorities right,” recalls Kelsey. “That was hard to hear.” Something needed to change.

Kicking her way across the Olympic-sized swimming pool, Kelsey prepares for a flip-turn -- a point of repeated transition that comes at every lap’s end. Like a skilled seamstress threading a needle, Kelsey loops smoothly through the water, her spine following an invisible thread as she tucks her chin toward her chest.

With precision she pushes off the wall, shooting in the opposite direction.

Kelsey launched into her junior year with some­thing to prove to herself, her team and her coaches. Over the summer, Kelsey had been reminded that the purpose for her swimming was to glorify God, not just to please her team.

The early childhood education major wanted to hang out more with Team United friends, but chose her teammates instead.

“I saw their need for a Savior more than they did,” says Kelsey. “God does the work, but the more I am around, the more He can use me to answer their questions.”

Helping to build community and looking for opportunities to talk about Jesus, Kelsey intentionally made time to be with her teammates.

Co-leading the swim-team Bible study, Kelsey and Lisa Caprioglio, her roommate from freshman year, created a safe environment for spiritual conversations on the team.

“I would say at least half of my team is now somewhat interested in either church or Bible study,” says Kelsey. “It’s incredible how much of a dif­ference the Bible study has made in the team, espe­cially in the area of partying.”

Outside the pool, Kelsey befriended Kathleen Gates, a UGA volleyball player who was wrestling with deep spiritual questions. A few months later, Kathleen prayed and began a relationship with Jesus Christ while sitting in the passenger seat of Kelsey’s car.

“She was crying and laughing all at the same time,” remembers Kelsey.

Finishing another leg of the race, 47 laps to go, Kelsey’s bare feet push off the tile wall. Her strong arms slice like windmill blades in pursuit of precious seconds on the clock.

With all that was going well on the team, it surprised Kelsey that she broke down in tears during a Team United leadership meeting the fall of her junior year.

“I had so much trouble figuring out how to balance swimming with my faith. I love people,” she says, “and I love pouring into them and reaching out. With my teammates, I can’t reach out to them if I’m not there.

“On the other hand,” Kelsey explains, “I need to have fellowship with people who are on the same spiritual level that I am. I didn’t know what to do.”

Between breaths, Kelsey darts a glance at her coach on the side of the pool. Alternately waving his arms above his head, he signals Kelsey to kick more.

On command she pumps her legs harder and stretches her arms for deeper bites of water. The clock continues to tick.

The wall emerges once again. Flip turn.

In the pool, Kelsey must keep her abdominal muscles and her back strong while working hard to coordinate arms and feet.

Similarly, in life, Kelsey needed to learn how to give attention to multiple spiritual values at once. Invisible tensions between reaching others for Christ, building community with believers yet continuing to grow personally are complex.

And prioritizing does not come easy.

After playing games with friends until 3 a.m. one Sunday, Kelsey arrived at church right on time to teach her 2nd grade Sunday school class. With less than 5 hours of sleep, she made it through the worship service that followed, the buzz of the crowded auditorium better than a cup of coffee.

As the congregation filed out, Kelsey’s world began to close in. Two large groups of friends -- her teammates and her guests from the night before -- both assumed she would be joining them for lunch after church. Yet Kelsey had made tentative plans to go Bible shopping with another friend earlier in the week. Additionally, last night’s festivities had left her desperate for a nap.

Caught in an internal tug-of-war, Kelsey weighed the options. “I over-plan, which is part of the problem with me not having enough time with the Lord,” says Kelsey. “I have to learn how to say no.”

The need for rest won. Kelsey headed back to her apartment for some physical and spiritual quiet time alone.

Finishing her last lap, her fingers touch the pool’s edge. The race is finished.

Kelsey takes a moment to catch her breath, panting through her signature smile.

She reviews the clock before climbing out of the pool to join her team, drip-drying on deck.

The structured swimming lifestyle vanished with one tweet of a whistle in the last race of her senior year. The change has put Kelsey at a new point of transition, like flip turns in a pool. One semester shy of completing her teaching degree, Kelsey plans to fulfill her student-teaching requirement overseas in the fall.

Large transitions are on the horizon.

Making sure to keep her core muscle of belief strong, Kelsey must apply the lessons from the pool to all areas of life. Rediscovering how to coordinate community and outreach, arms and legs, just as she did on campus.

Life will continue to require flip-turns.