After a busy week with midterms and essays, a typical student would be looking forward to a relaxing, stress-free weekend. Charles Vaughan, on the other hand, was on his way to board an afternoon bus headed towards Ithaca, N.Y., after a day of classes and a morning practice. He had finished a statistics midterm the day before and had a math and economics midterm right after the weekend.
Like most student-athletes at Harvard, Vaughan was exceptional as both a scholar and an athlete before coming to Cambridge. He was the swim captain on a Carmel High School team that won three consecutive state championships. He was the individual state champion in the 200 IM and was a member of the state champion 200 and 400 freestyle relays. On top of these impressive swimming accolades, Vaughan also managed to be Physics Student of the Year at Carmel along with participating in Carmel’s Principal’s Advisory Committee.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that Vaughan’s routine the day of an away meet reflected his phenomenal work ethic and discipline. After getting on the bus, Vaughan tried to have a relaxed mindset. He found it difficult to get too work done and instead listened to music and had light conversations with his teammates during the six and a half hour voyage to Cornell. After finally arriving at the hotel, Vaughan had his own unique practices to ensure that he is as prepared as possible for the meet the next day.
“I try not to do too much the night before a meet, especially after such a long bus ride. The goal is to get in bed by 10:30,” Vaughan said. “I try to get a bit of work done so I don’t stress about that. I also try to drink as much water as possible, and stretch out a little before bed, so I wake up feeling loose for the meet.”
The following day, Vaughan woke up at seven and grabbed a small snack before heading to the pool. The team did a light morning swim that only lasted about half an hour in order to get accustomed to the pool they will be competing in.
“Harvard’s pool is very different from Cornell’s pool and the morning swim helps me think about the nuances of the pool to make sure I’m not caught off guard while racing,” Vaughan said. “Cornell’s walls are kinda funky, and I don’t want that to prevent me from doing well.”
After the morning swim, the team boarded the bus and headed back to the hotel. During the succeeding hours, Vaughan tried to get a light nap in and also do some of the academic work he had to complete for the weekend. The team got lunch around 11:30 before heading to the pool to begin their warm-ups for the meet.
The team had an hour to warm up, during which everyone was in the water going through their own routines to prepare for the their respective events. Vaughan was competing in two breaststroke events against Cornell and went through a warmup routine very similar to what he does at almost every meet.
“Before the meet, I like to listen to some chill vibes to make sure my head is clear,” Vaughan said. “I’ll listen to some more hype tunes as the meet progresses. Once I’m in the water, I just do what I’ve been doing at every practice for a month. I’ll do the first general thousand that we do, and then work on some kicks. I’ll do some strokes at the end and keep it as routine as possible. You try not to think too much about it.”
For Vaughan, keeping his routine allowed him to be mentally focused and not overcomplicate his race plan. His mentality was that a set routine allowed you to be the most prepared when it came time for the most important meets of this season.
“When it’s time to compete, you have a very simple plan and you try to execute it as well as you can and have fun with your team at the same time,” says Vaughan. “Really everyone gets nervous, but the main goal is just keeping it as simple as possible.”
Vaughan executed his race plan against Cornell and had a great performance, securing 10th in the 100 yard breaststroke and fifth in the 200 yard breaststroke. Following a meet in which Harvard had the top performance in 15 of 16 events, the men’s swim team stayed for the men’s and women’s diving meet. Remaining at the pool late on a Friday night to watch the diving team compete exemplified the camaraderie the members of the swimming and diving teams have with one another.
The team then got on a bus Friday night at 9 p.m. and had another six hour bus ride as it traveled back to Cambridge. Vaughan used the bus ride as a way to debrief and relax after a competitive meet. He enjoyed talking to his teammates, and this serves as an opportune time to really bond with his fellow swimmers.
Following the meet at Cornell, Vaughan evaluated his performance and compared it to where he was at this point the previous season. Doing so helped him map his progression and gave him a good sense of what shape he will be in for the competitive meets in the future such as the Ivy League Championships.
“I like to look at my practices and see what I am doing a regular basis because that is a lot more predictable and I have a lot more control over it,” Vaughan said. “However I will look at the results of the meet and compare it to my past performances to see where I was and where I am now.”
After a long trip back, Vaughan finally opened up his dorm room and crashed around 3:30 a.m. In the life of a college athlete, there are almost never any breaks.