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The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Crimea loses identity while student athlete finds hers

City College competitive swimmer Daria Masalitina poses March 31 before her swimming practice at the Hoos swimming pool. She says she hopes to continue
competitive swimming or water polo in the future. Photo by Elizabeth Ramirez | Staff Photographer | [email protected]

Dasha Masalitina treads water for eight minutes, her legs scissoring furiously as she tries to keep her head afloat. She’s doesn’t know how to play water polo, but she doesn’t care. Not knowing how to do something new has never stopped her before.

Not too long ago, everything was new for her. New home. New school. New country.

New sport? Bring it on.

“This is my life now,” says the 19-year-old City College freshman. “And I love it.”

An aquatics athlete who plans to transfer to a four-year university to study neuroscience, Masalitina came to Sacramento two years ago from her home city of Kharkiv in Northeastern Ukraine. Her home country has been in political turmoil recently as a result of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a southern region of the Ukraine. The act has provoked sanctions by the U.S. and Europe because the annexation has been seen as a suppression of Ukraine’s democratic sovereignty.

With soft words laced with the lilt of her home country, Masalitina talks about how the complexity of the Crimea situation impacts her and her family. 

“People don’t know what to expect,” says Masalitina.

Her relatives in the Crimea region are pro-Ukrainian, and she says they are worried about what’s going to happen with a change in leadership.

“A lot of people want or would like to become part of Russia, but there is still a percentage of people who want to be in Ukraine. And they have their businesses and all that set up for Ukraine, and they just don’t know what’s going to happen with it,” says Masalitina. “It’s a weird feeling having a huge part of your country not be your country anymore.”

She still keeps in contact with her friends in the Ukraine via email, and they talk a lot about Russia’s annexation of one of Ukraine’s most popular regions.

“Many Ukrainians go to the Black Sea during the summer,” says Masalitina. “Crimea is a summer resort. Now since it’s not our country anymore, my friends are questioning whether they should still go. It’s really confusing.”

Masalitina says her family is more confused than upset, wondering what’s going to happen next.

On a smaller scale, over 6,000 miles away from her homeland, Masalitina has had to learn a new skill. When she tried out for City College’s water polo team, it was her first time playing the sport.

“In the Ukraine my swimming was just a hobby,” says Masalitina. “[Water polo] was really hard in the beginning because I didn’t know basically anything.”

Masalitina first heard about the water polo team from a classmate in her intermediate swim class. Her classmate suggested that since Masalitina enjoys swimming so much, she should try out for water polo. Masalitina says that she took her classmate’s advice and talked to head swimming coach Steven Hanson about joining the water polo team.

Hanson welcomed her with open arms despite her lack of experience.

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 “He said, ‘Of course, Dasha,’” says Masalitina. “’Please join us.’”

The swim team culture is an open and welcoming one, says 19-year-old computer engineering major Sam Meyers, who is a teammate of Masalitina.

 “The team was so welcoming and Coach Hanson was so awesome,” says Masalitina. “My first friends are on the water polo team. My first real American friends.”

Being with the players and working together as a team is what Masalitina says she enjoys most about water polo. She says most of her friends are Americans and they don’t treat her any different than any other player.

Twenty-year-old biology major Taylor Hill, another of Masalitina’s teammates, says he didn’t even know she was from another country.

“You can kind of tell from her accent a little bit, but I didn’t really know,” says Hill.

Masalitina speaks four languages: Ukrainian, Russian, English and German. The only child of two physicists, Masalitina planned to study physics as well until she found a passion for psychology. She took a summer psychology class at City College and found her calling.

“I loved it so much,” says Masalitina. “And I was like, ‘Oh, my God, that is what I want to do’.”

Masalitina says studying while being an athlete is the hardest part about attending City College.

“Sometimes there are moments of frustration,” says Masalitina. “You have to ask if you really want to do this. And I say, ‘Yeah, I really do want to do this.’ And I don’t give up.”

Having never swum competitively before arriving at City College, Masalitina says she had a lot of trouble with the strength required to be a successful aquatic athlete. Assistant swimming coach Bryce Young says Masalitina’s commitment has helped her succeed.

“When I first met Dasha, I didn’t think she was going to be able to swim or play water polo,” says Young. “But then I saw how hard she works. She is such a hard worker.”

Young says Masalitina is so tenacious in her work ethic that when she would get frustrated, she would talk to herself as a way to stay motivated.

“She would say to herself, ‘Come on, Dasha, you can do this,’” says Young.

Her dedication paid off. Last season, Masalitina was able to make the water polo team as goalie and this semester she is a red-shirt on the swim team. She says a huge part of her success can be attributed to the support she receives from her coaches and teammates.

 “I just feel like I’m a lucky one,” says Masalitina, “because they accept me as I am and help me so much.”

Masalitina wants to pass along her message of perseverance to students from other countries looking to make the jump into American sports.

“It’s not easy to start a new life in a new country,” says Masalitina. “Just follow your passion and heart. And never give up.”

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