April 18, 2017

Emma Baranski, Big Ten Medal of Honor Finalist


April 18, 2017

Every year each Big Ten institution awards a male and female student-athlete with a Medal of Honor. First awarded in 1915, the conference’s most exclusive award was the first of its kind in intercollegiate athletics to recognize academic and athletic excellence. This week each of Ohio State’s ten Big Ten Medal of Honor finalists will be sharing their experiences as Buckeyes and what led them to become the outstanding student-athletes they are today.

Resilience: “The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” 

To me, resilience might be one of the most powerful words in the dictionary and the most powerful trait a person can develop.  A person who is resilient can withstand the toughest physical and mental challenges.  Resilient people never give up and keep pushing even when everyone else has doubt.  A person who is resilient improves themselves and people around them every single day regardless of the circumstances. At The Ohio State University I learned to trust people and strive to be resilient. I learned through my interactions with OSU athletics staff, synchronized swimming coaches, my OSU team co-captains, OSU academic support staff, my public school master teacher and her students, and my family.  I owe all of my success to these people, because they taught me the value of trust, knowledge and resilience.

I consider synchronized swimming to be the ultimate team sport.  You may say I am biased, but I also consider synchronized swimmers to be some of the most resilient athletes in the world. Synchronized swimmers do not train and compete for fame, glory or money.  In fact, although we tread water and hold our breath for literally hours each day, our sport is underrated. Synchronized swimming is a sport that empowers women through teamwork.  We swim with passion and dedication in the best and worst of times.

Like many athletes I have experienced extreme highs and lows, and many gains and losses throughout my athletic and academic career. However, Ohio State has given me the tools, skills and courage to withstand the toughest situations as a student athlete.  I thank Ohio State athletics, including Gene Smith and TJ Shelton, for giving synchronized swimming equal attention as a sport. Not only have they provided our synchronized swimming program with many tools to succeed, they are helping change and expand the sport in the United States. You are the epitome of difference makers, like my OSU synchronized swimming coaches.

I don’t think I knew the power of the word team before I came to Ohio State.  I thank my coaches Holly Vargo-Brown and Suzanna Fernandez for instilling in us every day that team comes first.  Looking back at my two individual National Solo Championships, not for one second did I think about winning these titles for myself.  Every minute I stepped onto the pool deck I thought “how can I do this for my team, what can I do to inspire them like they inspire me every single day?” 

We have this cheer that we do before every competition “Life, Death, Team, We Are Buckeyes.” To me, this cheer represents strength in unity.  There is life, there is death, but between those two things comes each other. I am grateful to coaches Holly Vargo-Brown and Suzanna Fernandez for teaching and modeling the importance and value of being a team.  I thank my squad for dedicating themselves to the team effort and putting their trust in me as a teammate.

We talked a lot about trust on our team.   I always considered myself to be a person that has a lot of trust in people, especially my teammates.  However, many times I did not trust myself.  For example, when I was elected co-captain my junior and senior years, the only thing I could think of was “how am I going to mess this up?” I lost a lot of sleep over it.  At times I wanted to step down because I was scared that I would lead my team in the wrong direction.  I thank my two co-captains, Alyssa Hoying and Lorraine Hack, for giving me the courage to complete my co-captain duties. Without my co-captains, I would never have been able to lead my teams.  Alyssa and Lorraine are the definition of team players.  They provided me with courage when we wanted to try something new and different. Together, we were able to make a difference and lead our teams in our own unique way. Because of my team captains, I have the courage to lead the United States National Synchronized Swimming Team to the World Championship this summer with co-captain Elizabeth Davidson.

This year our OSU synchronized swimming team won its 30th national title.  My last competition as an Ohio State athlete had a storybook ending. My amazing duet partner Elizabeth Davidson and I won the duet event.  I would like to thank Elizabeth because she pushed me to be a better athlete every day through her fierce competitive attitude.  Elizabeth and I shared similar journeys in our synchronized swimming careers.  We never thought in a million years we could win the duet event.  Elizabeth shared her resilient attitude with me all season to help me balance my academic and athletic life, and I can’t thank her enough.  I also realized this semester that I needed to be resilient to succeed academically. 

“Knowledge is power.”   

I think this quote is so important. I will graduate from Ohio State with a degree in Arts Management and a Dance minor.  I hope to become a performer and own a dance studio.  Ohio State has given me everything I’ve needed to become an educated person inside and outside of the pool. SASSO, Compliance, Vicki Melnick, Megan Cable, Ed Quinn, Kaitlin Flaherty and all of my professors instilled in me the importance of knowledge and academic success. Thank you for bringing me one step closer to my dreams by allowing me to apply what I learned in the classroom to the outside world.

Aside from the pool and university classrooms, I spent many hours in dance studios, internships, and community service events. However, I had one life changing experience this past school year as a student dance teacher at Arts Impact Middle School in Columbus, Ohio. These students were so full of life and possibility.  Teaching these students every day made me realize that although I am older than them, we shared many similarities and differences.  These kids taught me what it is like to be resilient.  No matter what kind of day they were having (and trust me, being a middle school student is not easy nowadays) they came into class and left all of their baggage outside the door so they could dance.  My supervising teacher, Dr. U, and the students and staff at the Arts Impact Middle School in Columbus helped me develop a new passion for teaching and arts education. They, along with my family, also taught me not to quit.

Quit: Leave, permanently.

I think ‘quit’ is another powerful word in the dictionary; next to resilience, trust and knowledge.  In life there are resilient people and there are quitters. At Ohio State I struggled to balance many things.  Many times I wanted to quit.  My parents, Stephen and Karen Baranski, taught me that quitting is not a part of our value system.  Thank you for teaching me that to be successful in life one must have resilience and determination, and trust in themselves to never give up. Thank you Peter Baranski, my brother, for being a role model in every aspect of my life. You have inspired me to go beyond my expectations. I owe everything I have to my family.  

I understand the level of excellence it has taken to become a finalist for the Big Ten Medal of Honor.  I congratulate the other finalists and all graduating student athletes at The Ohio State University.  You are all extraordinary people that strive for excellence.  Most importantly, you are people that possess resilience, and with that trait you can do anything you put your mind to.  Congratulations and Go Bucks!