Taylor Vargo, Big Ten Medal of Honor Finalist
April 19, 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.

I grew up in a small town near Sandusky, Ohio as a big fish in a small pond. Most kids looking at a Division I swimming career at a school like those in the prestigious Big Ten conference were coming from club teams consisting of hundreds of kids, or even top tier high schools throughout the county. I come from a small 40 or 50 person club team and a six-lane pool built in the 1950s. If you were to ask me five years ago if I would ever be up for a Big Ten Medal of Honor at The Ohio State University, I would have told you that you were absolutely out of your mind. I began looking into schools at the beginning of my senior year of high school. I wanted to attend a top-ranked, athletically-oriented school, but also a school that strived for success in the classroom. After my official visit, I truly could not see myself going to any other university. Coach Bill Dorenkott and the team felt like a family I knew I wanted to be a part of. Over the last four years, the family and memories I have made here at Ohio State will never be forgotten. Being a student-athlete at a place that is so rich in tradition, school spirit and a place of so much diversity, truly sets you up to be nothing short of successful in life.

You hear of student-athletes struggling with confidence after competing at such a high level due to stress and previously earned success.  I came in my freshman year with the ultimate goal of making the Big Ten Championships team. I ended up making it to NCAA Championships individually and breaking a school record. Our team ended up placing 41st of all teams at NCAA’s.  Freshman year was much more than I could have ever hoped for. During my sophomore season, I would make it to NCAA’s individually and not re-break a record or help the team to a 40th place finish. As silly as it sounds, not performing at my best got rid of all my confidence and I was worrying that I was no longer good enough to swim here at Ohio State. Losing this confidence would follow me throughout my junior year. I go onto make NCAA’s for the third consecutive year and re-break the record, but it was not what I had hoped to accomplish. Our team would finish 14th at NCAA’s, the highest it had in years. Although, I was extremely happy for our team, I lost the love I had for a sport I’ve been doing since I was five years old and questioned whether or not to keep going. I did not have the drive, the love, and the confidence I once had. With Olympic Trials three months after NCAA’s, I wanted to find the love I had once before and use my junior year as a learning experience. After all, I had nothing to lose.

Olympic Trials was the turning point of my swimming career. I had never placed higher than 17th at NCAA’s. I made semi-finals at the 2016 Olympic Trials and placed 12th in the country. Beginning my freshman year, I would have never seen myself making Olympic Trials, let alone being 12th in the nation. If it were not for Olympic Trials, I would have never had the senior year that I did. I loved going to practice and grinding every day. I loved being with my team and my coaches. I will never be able to tell someone about the best times or the records that were broken my senior year, but I will be able to tell you about spending my last two years as a Buckeye swimming side by side with my sister, our Big Ten Champions, our All-Americans, our uncommon team, or about the family I never thought I would leave. My senior year was a dream to truly come true.

The opportunities here at Ohio State have allowed me to grow not only as an athlete but as a person. Participating in Buckeye-Thon and dancing all night to help raise awareness for Pediatric Cancer, will be something for which I will forever be grateful to have experienced. I found the Second and Seven Foundation, where student-athletes go around to disadvantage schools to help tackle illiteracy. Being a student here at Ohio State led me to work with kids through these various programs and has helped me seek the dream of applying for medical school in hopes of becoming a Pediatric Oncologist.

I would like to thank my family and our family friends. Thank you to our family friends who not only helped raise me but for also loving me as if I was one of your own family members. To my sister, thank you for dealing with me a daily basis at practice over the last two years and for being my absolute best friend. I will truly miss swimming next to you. To my dad, thank you for your unconditional love. And finally, I cannot say thank you enough to my mom for waking up and driving Kerrigan and I to practice, as well as traveling all over for meets. You’ve taught me to be strong, to believe in myself, and to never give up. You are my rock and I would never be as successful as I am without you’re guidance and never ending love.

Next, I want to say thank you to Bill, Jordan, and my teammates, especially the senior class. Every one of you has helped me become who I am today. To my other seniors, through all our ups and downs, I can say I am grateful that I spent the last four years with you, leaving our team better than we found it. Thank you to my team as well for putting up with the daily sass and for pushing me to be my best. To my roommates, thank you for loving me, even though I can be grumpy at times. I am forever thankful for you two for sticking by my side. And to Bill and Jordan, there aren’t enough thank you’s in the world for your love, your support, and your confidence in me, even when I could not love or believe in myself. I would not want to represent the Scarlet and Gray with any other team. All of you challenged me to strive to be the best version of myself and it means the world to me.

Last but not least, thank you to everyone who I’ve met over the last four years. You’ve made my college career something more than special. I am beyond grateful to have had the academic, athletic, and service opportunities that Ohio State offers. I will never forget the people I’ve met or the pride I have to represent The Ohio State University. Go Bucks!