By Alex Pjinowski
Brian Warren ’15 was first exposed to the Kenyon swimming and diving program from afar. Not long after he enrolled here ﾗ as a sophomore transfer*** ﾗ he was exercising at the Kenyon Athletic Center when he caught a glimpse through the glass wall of an ongoing swim meet in the pool. Drawn by the fast-paced action, Warren found himself transfixed.
“There was a lot of energy and commotion, and I wanted to be involved with it, and that was the turning point ﾗ that was when I decided to try to walk on the swim team,” he said. Warren officially joined the swimming and diving team in the fall of this year.
“I guess I’ve always been drawn to water,” Warren.
Warren was born in Bakersfield, Ca., but at the age of eight, his family moved to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia to follow his father’s job with an oil company. Warren later returned to California to attend boarding school, where he was a member of the surfing, water polo and swim teams. He began college at the University of California, San Diego, intending to study neuroscience, but he says he found the neuroscience program there “confining.”
After completing his first year, he chose to take a semester off from schooling and travelled to Keramas, a village in Bali, Indonesia. In Keramas, Warren lived with his older brother, spending time on the beach, honing his surfing skills and teaching swimming lessons. Warren acknowledged that he was living his dream in Indonesia, but he still felt that something was missing.
“While I was there, I decided that you can’t just relax your whole life,” he said.
He felt an urge to pursue his education and, above all, to challenge himself. Ultimately, he chose to transfer to Kenyon midway through the academic year.
“I didn’t even come to the school before I [transferred] here. And I didn’t know it snowed as bad as it did here, so I flew here from Indonesia in shorts, and [there were about] two feet of snow,” he said, laughing.
Given the intensity of the training and the mastery of technique required to excel in the sport, swimming is not an activity one usually becomes involved with on a whim ﾗ especially not at the collegiate level and with a program as historically successful as Kenyon’s.
For this reason, Warren carefully weighed his options and wrestled with his decision before ultimately opting to join the team.
He spoke with Head Coach Jess Book ’01 about the possibility of joining the program, but because the season was already in its later stages, Book suggested that he begin training with the goal of joining the team for the following season.
Warren was also suffering from typhoid fever at the time, which he had contracted in Indonesia, and it was necessary for him to recover before attempting the transition.
When he returned to Kenyon for the fall semester earlier this year, Warren started to work in earnest toward his new dream of swimming at Kenyon.
“Brian earned a spot [on the team],” Book said. “He really committed himself at the highest level, and he was extremely attentive, focused and communicative.”
Warren’s attendance at pre-season workouts was virtually impeccable. Book said that despite joining the team late in his collegiate career, Warren did not seem out of place, and was quickly welcomed on to the team.
“He was very integrated, very quickly ﾗ I think, maybe a week and a half or two weeks [into training],” Book observed. “Upperclassmen started to come to me and offer words of support, to say that, ﾑThis guy is really fitting in very well, doing everything that we would want in a teammate.'”
Book noted the rareness of Warren’s achievement as a walk-on at Kenyon. Book’s memory of Kenyon swimming extends back to 1997, when he became a member of the Lords, and he said he can only recall one other person who successfully walked onto the team as a junior or senior. But to watch Warren in practice, one would not know that this is his first year with the team ﾗ he swims with a steady, powerful stroke, and continues his workout relentlessly, even if he falls behind the field. When he lags physically, he still shows the mental edge necessary for training in swimming, a sport where training is both strenuous and constant.
Warren admits that his early days of training were not easy. He said that he was generally so fatigued that, in order to finish his assigned reading for class, he had to download his textbooks as audiobooks and listen to them while walking around campus.
But the camaraderie that comes with training as a team helped Warren exert himself beyond what he originally thought was possible.
“Seeing what my teammates can do ﾗ seeing how my teammates push themselves ﾗ definitely gives me confidence that I can also do it,” he said. “I don’t think anybody could just swim laps, and ﾅ I don’t think anybody could push themselves as hard without the team there ﾗ without the culture of everybody doing it together.”
Even though being a member of the swim team ensures that Warren will be spending many hours in one place ﾗ the pool ﾗ his involvement is also a continuation of his lifelong journey to new places. For large portions of his life, he has been placed into, and at times has even sought out, situations that challenge his comfort zone. He said that, for example, living in Saudi Arabia, within a culture so vastly different from the one he was born into, often posed challenges.
Warren still can’t quite pin down the exact reason he chose to swim for Kenyon after being out of the sport for two years ﾗ and having never once competed at the collegiate level. Perhaps it was his innate desire to push himself and expand his capabilities: after arriving in Gambier, Warren said he thought that his intellect was sufficiently stimulated by his coursework, but also felt that his experience did not test his physical capabilities to the extent that he would have liked. This could partially explain the allure of the swim meet that captivated him on that January day last year.
And Warren has been improving, recently dropping eight seconds from his 200-yard freestyle time.
Warren said that Book’s advice to “be comfortable with the uncomfortable” has guided him this season, and those words have taken on even more meaning for him beyond the world of swimming.
“I really love that quote,” he said, “because I feel like that’s what I’ve been trying to do with everything: when I travel, when I switched schools or when I go back to Saudi [Arabia].”
[starbox id=”Alex Pijanowski”]