Candice Saxod may be just 18 but she is already making a splash not just in the world of sports but also in academics. A champ swimmer – for the past two years she has been participating in the French Elite Nationals – the Dubai-based Hale Class of 2020 teen has just been accepted into the prestigious New York University’s Stern School of Business. (For those who came in late, Stern’s undergrad programme is ranked fifth-best business school by US News and World Report.)
A passionate sportsperson, Candice chose swimming after checking out tennis, golf and football, and realising that none could give her the adrenaline high that standing on the starting block at a pool gave her.
"Team sports just wasn’t my thing because I’m a really competitive person," admits the French girl. "Swimming meant I could race against other people and have only myself to blame [if I failed]; my performance relied purely on the effort I’d put into my practice. No one else was responsible."
Putting in close to 20 hours a week for competitive swimming practice including working out with weights thrice a week and doing physio and strength and conditioning exercises regularly, Candice is proof that one can strike a perfect balance excelling in sport while maintaining high academic grades.
"If you are well organised and get your priorities right, juggling swimming with studies is definitely doable," she says. She admits that as an IB student, there were moments when it felt like she was swimming in choppy waters. "But I prepared a clear schedule beforehand that I’d follow every day to ensure I complete my work and projects on time." Sticking to the schedule also meant she sometimes had to finish her projects while her parents were ferrying to and from swimming practice sessions. "I guess that was a key to success as it meant that the hour spent in the car was used wisely rather than just listening to music and watching the Dubai skyline."
The rigorous practice must have surely put a crimp on her social life?
"Oh yes," she says. "My social life was impacted, particularly during competition weekends when going out just wasn’t an option. Initially, it was hard to make people understand why I couldn’t go out, but over time swimming just became a part of my identity and people understood I’d prioritise swimming over going out any day. I’m really proud for standing up for who I am and I don’t think I would be where I am today without swimming in my life."
Clearly, the hard work paid off. Candice landed a spot at the French Nationals when she was just 14. "I recall walking past this huge swimming pool and then all of a sudden almost brushed past my swimming idol, Florent Manaudou. I was absolutely starstruck."
The first time at the nationals she could make barely a ripple but as she progressed over the years, her performances got better. Apart from the physical sessions, Candice worked on her mental strength and, two years ago, at the Nationals in 2018, set her best times in France. "That was a wonderful experience for me and a pivotal moment too," she says.
Getting into Stern
The other pivotal moment was making it to Stern. "The admission journey was hectic," she says. "Hale definitely helped narrow down my options, but also pursue options which suited me well. My counselor allowed me to explore and overall we worked really well together.
"Peter [Davos], the CEO, was at hand to provide guidance when I was lost, and was always open to talking and discussing options. I think the biggest advantage of Hale was that they believed in my potential and weren’t afraid to push me out of comfort zone to reach out to outstanding institutions."
Sports are a major part of the university experience in the US and athletic recruits undergo a different admission process than non-recruits, says Peter. "For example, 90 per cent of recruited athletes secure undergraduate admission to Harvard compared to less than 5 per cent of all applicants."
Candice says she always dreamt of living in New York City. "And after my visit on campus, I knew I wanted to go there. When I finally got my acceptance letter, it was the best day of my life. I am taking a variety of classes and trying out different options before really narrowing it down over the next two years," she says.
Candice credits ‘a lot of people’ including her parents who inspired and guided her. While her parents have been extremely supportive all through, "however, they have always been very realistic – something I’m really grateful for. They have always made me prioritise my education, meaning that swimming was always extracurricular more than anything else."
That, she says, is what helped her maintain a balance in life "and always made me perceive the sport as fun rather than a duty. The fact that they have taught me to enjoy it more than anything else I believe is the reason for which I am still swimming to this day. They really managed to teach me how to be passionate about what I do."
Anand Raj OK