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I was born into an athletic family. My mom is a marathon runner and avid swimmer, and my dad, a former collegiate wrestler, makes a living teaching PE and coaching track. Even before I was born, my parents looked forward to sharing their love of physical discipline and competition with me. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. I was born with a single ventricle heart; I have had three open-heart surgeries in my twenty-one years, and while my condition is now stable, I will never be able to participate in physical activities. My oxygen saturation rate is significantly below normal--sea level altitude to me is like the peak of Mount Whitney to an average adult, and I would consider a three mile walk strenuous. This condition has played a large role in making me who I am today. For instance, instead of teaching me sports, my parents instilled in me the value of practice, self-discipline, and hard work through other means. I began to gravitate toward activities that developed critical thinking skills which has shaped my interests and pursuits ever since.

When I was six, I sat down with my dad to play my first game of chess. Obviously, he was far better than I and won with ease. However, he made me a promise: when I finally beat him, he would give me the hand-carved Mexican chess set. This caused me, for the first time, to work hard toward a long-term goal. I began practicing on my own, reading chess books, and challenging him to a game every chance I could. My dad is actually quite a good chess player, and it took me six years to finally win a game against him. This first taste of success was worth all the hard work.

Entering high school, I was ready for a new type of challenge. I liked strategic games, but I also had a passion for argument, rhetoric, and persuasion. So, I started a debate team, and for three years participated in high school debate. In my senior year of high school I began competing on the college circuit for a local community college at the request of its coach. I am now finishing up my seventh year of involvement in competitive debate. I have been successful, but winning awards is merely incidental to my goals of intellectual and social betterment. More than any class or extra-curricular, debate has honed my skills in strategic thinking, argumentation, speaking, and researching. Debate gave me a voice and a platform to share my opinions, and taught me to better listen to the opinions of others. That is why I do what I do....

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