Welcome to this special interview, #44, with Virginia Taylor, former NCAA athlete. She is a lawyer with a big heart and a swimmer with a big horse.
For those of you dreaming of competing in college, listen to athletes like Virginia who have already traveled the road and are now looking back.
I am excited to introduce you to one of the brightest young attorneys in the San Fran Cisco area, who is dedicating her career to speak for those whose voice is not heard.Read on.
Read on. This interview is incredibly motivational!Virgina Taylor swam for four years at Mount Holyoke College, under Coach David Allen. Click here to see our interview with Coach Allen.
When you were in high school you were a swimmer and a horse back rider. Were you recruited to play either of those sports in college?
I went through the informal recruiting process for IHSA (Intercollegiate Horse Show Associate) horseback riding teams. At most college IHSA teams are club sports but at Mount Holyoke College (MHC) the IHSA is college varsity sport just like the swim team.
At MHC I went to the horseback riding team welcome weekend and tour. I knew about MHC’s D3 swimming team and I think the swim Coach Dave knew I was interested in MHC in high school. However, I think I ignored all his attempts to talk to me because I did not plan to swim in college.
What happened with your swimming career in high school that caused you to be burnt out? What advice do you have for high school athletes who are feeling burnt out, but at some level would love to continue their sport?
I grew up in California where swimming rivals football in popularity. After swimming on club teams since I was seven and the varsity swim team all four years of high school I had tendinitis in my knees and I was mentally frustrated with not getting any faster. However, swimming at MHC as a First year I finally dropped time in my signature race the 100 breaststroke.
My advice now to high school swim athletes that are feeling burnt out is that a change in scenery can make you love a sport again that you obviously once had a passion for.
I would also advise high school athletes from extremely competitive high school teams to look at D3 or smaller college teams where your teammates may not come from such competitive backgrounds. That way having fun really is what your coach stresses as the most important trait, because crazily enough, most people actually perform better when they are having fun.
How did you make the decision to attend Mounty Holyoke?
I chose MHC because it was the only college that owned school horses which lived in a barn on the college campus. Thus, I could continue horseback riding but did not need to own my own horse or a car.
I wanted to go out of my comfort zone and open my horizons by going to school far away from home. I knew I needed a small school where the classes were small and the teachers were very hands on.
I did not seek out a Woman’s College and sort of chose the school despite the female only student body. However, I ended up really loving and feeling extremely supported by all female environment. I truly think the Woman’s college environment gave me the power and support to become the somewhat fearless and strong woman I am today.
When you arrived on campus, you were not planning on swimming in college. What changed and how did you end up swimming?
When I arrived at Mount Holyoke the riding team tryouts were the first week and I was so nervous that I fell off my horse going around a turn. Ha! Suffice to say, I did not make the team (dozens of girls don’t make the team each semester).
I was devastated and went to talk to my Student Advisor (the older student that lived in my dorm hall and monitored us). She was a junior on the MHC swim team and convinced me to go to the swim team pre-season Ultimate Frisbee practice.
I met Cristina Vieira (Mendonca is her married name) and all the other swimmers at
that practice and their inclusivity and positive attitudes convinced me to join the swim team. I also met David Allen, the swim coach, whose supportive nature and assuredness that I would get faster made me feel comfortable enough to swim again.
Can you compare what it was like to swim as a college senior to what your freshmen year was like?
First year swimming was exciting and new. I was on some record-setting relays, I got faster and I made some lifelong friends. It accumulated in winning the Noel Newcomer award.
Senior year was hard because my knees hurt a lot and I spent hours in the physical training room each week (we did have an amazing PT staff!). (You know, I just googled Breaststroke and second thing that came up was multiple scientific articles about breaststroke knee injuries. That was not a thing back in 2007. Ha!
My senior year was defined by being a mentor, good teammate and soaking in all the traditions one last time.
What is it like to compete at the NCAA Division 3 level?
I loved competing at the Division 3 level. I had not been the best breaststroker on my high school teams but on the D3 team I was the fastest breaststroke swimmer. Thus, I got to compete on all the A team medley relays as the swimmer of the breaststroke leg.
I also fully embraced my job on the team which was to win the breaststroke events so we could get the top number of points in those events. In addition, the best thing about the D3 level is the sportsmanship and traditions that you are a part of with your teammates and those at all the other schools.
Now that some time has passed, what are your favorite memories? What stands out as most important about your time swimming at Mount Holyoke?
When looking through my college mementos I found a few psych up signs that I had kept. These are signs that were made for me by a teammate then brought to the swim meet and taped to the wall on the side of the pool deck in our staging area. We did this for each other every single swim meet.
The signs I still have say things like, “Ginny is gonna whip past you in the pool and out” (complete with a picture of me riding a horse in my swim suit), “Good luck, swim fast, beat Trinity” or “Ginny: unstoppable, unbeatable!”
This positive encouragement and love from my teammates/friends is probably what I miss most from MHC swimming. I wish that the “real world” was this way. It would be amazing to get into work at the beginning of what I knew was going to a long hard day to find a sign that said, “Virginia you’ve got this, you rock!”
How has your experience as a Mount Holyoke swimmer impacted your life?
I created lifelong connections to people that support me to this day. My best friend from my days at MHC is Cristina Vieira Mendonca who I shared a lane with at every practice. Over ten years later she is still my biggest cheerleader and even though she lives on the east coast was just at my wedding last year. I am very excited that a current MHC swimmer is going to come intern at my non-profit this summer as she is interested in practicing law someday.
After graduation, where did life take you next?
After graduation I moved to the Bay Area/San Francisco to be closer to my family and to get back to the warm weather! I went to law school at the University of San Francisco where I met Adrian Tirtanadi in a class called Rebellious Lawyering. I had been doing direct legal services at many different legal non-profits and loved working with clients. Thus, I agreed to join him to found Bayview/Hunters Point Community Legal right after we graduated. Our first year I was living at home making minimum wage but now we have 9 employees and have closed over 500 cases.
Now you are a lawyer at a legal aid non-profit you founded in 2013. Bayview/Hunters Point Community Legal has been declared as one of the 10 most innovative non-profits in San Francisco by Google.
Yes, we won second and half a million dollars from Google this year. We are innovative because our mission of bringing universal access to legal services for everyone in the lowest income community of SF, has never been done before. Please check us out at bhpcommunitylegal.org.
What inspired you to found a legal aid non-profit?
I have always believed that I am extremely lucky and privileged to have received the education that I have, but just because I am educated as lawyer should not mean that only I can enforce the rights given to me by the constitution and laws.
Others should also be able to access the necessary tools to enforce their rights and often that tool is a lawyer to speak for them in court. We help low income members of our community get their money back when swindled, not be illegally locked out of their home by landlords and keep joint custody of their children when up against foreign court procedures.
Did college athletics help prepare you for law school and for the challenges of running a non-profit?
Swimming at MHC gave me the much needed structure and support in my daily life that I needed to succeed as a student at MHC grade wise. Also, swimming taught me to work hard and strive to be better while having fun. Now I am striving to support, encourage and push my employees to achieve their best like David Allen my swim coach at MHC did for me.
Finally, Virginia here is a bonus question: What advice would you give to the high school athlete who would like to compete at the college level?
Do it, competing in athletics at a college level will actually make you a better student and produce the character you will need to succeed in life later on.
Next, take a look at this interview with Virginia’s former college coach, David Allen, Mount Holyoke Swimmming and Diving Coach.
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