How Two University of Chicago Swimmers Overcame Personal Challenges and Transitioned to Consulting & Banking
For Emily Hunt and Rolland Lee, Swimming at the University of Chicago was a rewarding experience that started with some setbacks. After having to train with a slower group on her Toronto-based club team, Emily eventually qualified for the Canadian Olympic Trials in the 200 butterfly before coming to University of Chicago. Rolland, a California native with a pool in his backyard, led his team to back-to-back 4th place team finishes at Junior Nationals before college. Transitioning these early successes to college would prove to be challenging as Emily suffered a concussion that got her off to a slow start while Rolland dealt with anxiety and insomnia upon stepping foot on campus.
Both a few years removed from Swimming with careers in the business world, we spoke to each about the role University of Chicago played in their development, overcoming these adjustment challenges, and how it prepared them to transition to consulting and investment banking.
What made you want to keep swimming despite your concussion?
My freshman year, I could not swim very much. I got in the water and practiced when I could, which was only really a few times a week. I remember asking myself, “What about swimming makes it worth it? What is the positive here?” I think, especially with swimming, you go through ups and downs. You can fail for years, but you feel that there is a reason for it. My friends on the team were really supportive, and I did not want to give up that sense of community. I was not where I wanted to be swimming-wise, but when school gets overwhelming, swimming becomes an outlet. It’s important to have variety and a way to manage your mental state. That’s what swimming provided me.
How did you know what you wanted to do after college?
I’m really grateful for the liberal arts education I received at the University of Chicago. I graduated with a degree in Public Policy and was able to write my BA thesis on the Brock Turner case. However, I spent a lot of time in the humanities and also wanted to engage with practical business skills. For the past two years, I have been an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) consultant at Shea [Global]. I was not really intimidated by entering a new field. I knew I needed to work on building my business foundation, so I was excited to start in consulting. [Specifically, an ERP consultant works with companies to maximize business processes internally. The projects deal with software that makes everyday functions smoother, so that the company can run more effectively.]
Was it tough dealing with the transition?
The first couple of months were difficult and looking back, I really do miss swimming. Do I miss waking up at 6am four times a week? No. But, I did like the rhythm and a way to relieve my stress. My senior year, my grandmother was ill before Conference. There were a lot of things on my plate, and my head was not in it. That being said, I don’t see how my last meet [Conference] could have gone any other way. At first, the fact that swimming had ended was a relief, but I miss it as an outlet.
Would you say you were prepared for the consulting world?
I would say it took about a year to adjust to my job. The first 3 months were a really steep learning curve, as I was getting caught up on the softwares used by my company. The remainder of the year was finding a rhythm to my work, experiencing different types of projects, and adjusting to the new challenges of working full time vs. being a student. However, being a student-athlete, I wasn’t afraid to take chances or “go at it” until I figured it out. An aspect that I really enjoy about consulting is the team atmosphere.
Tell us more about that team dynamic.
It varies on any given project, but I am almost always working with other people in some way (whether that be colleagues or clients). I would say that about 50% of my job is direct teamwork with colleagues. The social aspect of being a teammate in the workplace is very important. When something does not go right, you manage expectations, and you move on. Some of the projects are up to 2 years. I also work with multiple teams at a time and need to communicate updates between them.
What other swimming skills help you in consulting?
Swimming prepared me for the endurance of working 80 plus hours a week. Even though the work hours are long during some of the projects, I enjoy seeing the tangible results at the end. When the team reaches their goal at the end of a project and the client’s business run more efficiently, it makes all the hard work worth it. I feel pressure to deliver results because my team relies on me. In that sense, swimming is not that different from the projects I work on now. Another aspect that athletes have is the ability to take initiative and assume leadership roles. I think it comes a lot more natural to people who played sports in college.
What are your plans for the future?
I am not sure I want to stay in consulting forever. I found that I enjoy working on a team, and the ability to keep exploring by bouncing around on a number of projects. For now, I plan to eventually go back to school in a few years. In the meantime, I am hoping to work on a project based in London.
What’s some advice that you would give to current collegiate athletes?
Definitely take advantage of every opportunity that sounds interesting. The University of Chicago has so many great events and clubs, and it is worth getting involved. You probably won’t be around so many dedicated and brilliant people in one place again. Even when school seems hard, it’s important to take a step back and have perspective. You need to trust yourself that things will fall into place eventually.
Tell us about your adjustment to University of Chicago.
I came into UChicago a highly touted prospect out of high school, with aspirations to make an immediate, meaningful contribution to the team, but for the most part I went the other way.
For about a year and a half, I struggled with the pressures of coming into a prestigious academic institution and dealt with an awful battle against anxiety and insomnia. For most of my freshmen and sophomore years in college, I slept maybe 3-4 hours a night, and that affected just about every aspect of my academic and swimming lives.
How do you look back on that time in your life?
I hadn’t faced a challenge like this ever before. I considered giving up the sport pretty much every day. I wouldn’t have made it through that time without a great team supporting me, helping me every step of the way.
How did your view of swimming change as college went on?
A lot of people believe swimming is an extremely individual sport, which for a long time, I agreed with. But now that I’m two years removed from competing in the sport, and while still a huge fan of the sport itself, what I truly enjoyed from swimming was a gradual learning process that there’s much more satisfaction to be gained than just personal accomplishment. There are few feelings better than watching people I care about succeed, knowing and appreciating the work they put in to get there.
How was your transition to Investment Banking?
When I was swimming or in school, there was always a clear goal in mind, but that’s not always the case in work. Also, finding an identity outside of my comfort zone was hard. Respect wasn’t given by the things I earned before; no one cared what I had done in school or in swimming. But applying the same principles that helped me get through those journeys – hard work and a positive attitude – have been instrumental in my development in the professional world. Finally, being surrounded by good people and finding happiness in what I do is much more important than what I had thought before
Do you find similarities between swimming and work?
The ability to foresee things in the process of a work project, much like visualizing parts of a race, is important when showing people that you can articulate and understand all parts of the broader picture and the company’s goals.
What are some of your best memories from the sport?
If I had to count a few of my favorite moments from the sport as a whole, they’d include watching my sister compete in the finals of Junior Nationals as a 14 year old, coming within 1.5 points of handing Emory its first ever defeat at the Conference level, the training trip in Puerto Rico, and working with my teammates to help them improve after I had retired from the sport.
Are you a UChicago Alum who wants to share your story?
Connect with UChicago’s Campus Ambassador, Sydney Grube ‘20 (email@example.com)