Humans of Harker: Resilience and resolve

Katie Li supports her peers with optimism and determination

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Helen Zhu

“Being friendly and approachable … are things that I value a lot. As a person, I’d like to be remembered as someone who would be there for you if you needed it and lend a helping hand,” Katie Li (12) said.

Golden leaves coating the sidewalk, Katie Li (12) strolls through her neighborhood, water bottle in hand. Petrichor fills the air as she admires her surroundings on her walk, missing her pre-quarantine nature walks. Aside from hiking, Katie also enjoys pastimes such as baking and playing the piano and flute. Although her various other hobbies have all had an impact on her, she considers her swimming experiences to be her biggest influence. 

After nine years, Katie has gained a lot of experience as a competitive swimmer, though not without challenges. Due to a lack of confidence, she often felt like quitting but persevered through the hard times. Recently, during her Santa Clara Swim Club mock swim meet, she felt less than satisfied with her performance but persisted. 

“For a lot of things, especially swimming and also instruments like flute and piano, I’ve definitely wanted to give up … but I haven’t yet. So that’s something that I am proud of,” Katie said. 

Though she has pushed herself to never give up, Katie has struggles as well. Through several of her hobbies and in her life in general, Katie has encountered many bumps in the road.

“I really don’t like the unknown. The beginning of quarantine was really scary for me because I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with college. What’s the future going to be like?’ And that definitely gets in the way a lot,” Katie said.

However, she is able to use her passion for swimming as a way to relax and handle stress. With the early support of her family, Katie began swimming at a young age, learning to appreciate the sport and finding a deeper connection over her swimming career. 

“I like the feel of the water and how everything can float away when you’re just swimming,” Katie said. “I’ve [also] met a lot of cool people and [made] a lot of friendships because you suffer together and … the bond is stronger.”

The dedication and enthusiasm she puts into her relationships is evident in both her closest friends as well as her acquaintances. Unfortunately, quarantine has made interactions between Katie and her classmates far rarer. 

“I [miss] running into people that you’re not super close with but you know, and then saying, ‘Hi,’ like a quick catch up,” Katie said. “And online, it’s really hard to text someone just to say like, ‘Hi, how are you doing?’… it’s not quite the same.” 

Friend Sophie Wang (12) described Katie’s efforts to reach out to her friends regularly, especially during the pandemic.

“I’ll be having a pretty busy week,” Sophie said. “And all of a sudden, I’ll get a text from her just asking me, ‘Hey, do you want to go hiking?,’ [or] ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ … When she knows that someone is not feeling well, she’s going to take the time to talk to them and help them feel better. I think that that’s really one of her most unique abilities that makes her who she is.”

Not only has Katie created secure relationships with fellow students, but she has also bonded with her coaches as well. Howie Chang, head coach for Katie’s Performance B group from Santa Clara Swim Club, would always motivate Katie, reminding her that she couldn’t swim for anyone other than herself.

Katie’s self-driven and determined personality shine through in her passion for swimming. Sachi Ujifusa, a coach for Harker’s swim team, recounted a story that took place before the 2020 swim season. Katie had asked if they could buy a certain type of swimsuit for the team, different from the one they usually bought. The coaches responded that if she could organize everything, from the girls’ sizes to the type of swimsuit, they would buy them. Thus, Katie rose to the challenge, arranging everything weeks before the deadline.

“She got [the swimsuits] in a week or less than a week, and I gave her a month to do it,” Ujifusa said. “It was really impressive. Her … go-getter attitude and the ability to get things done is really awesome.”

Katie’s compassion and benevolence is just as perceptible in her friendships as it is in her contributions to the swim team. Friend Pramiti Sankar (12), who has known Katie since eighth grade, remembers their first meeting and Katie’s openness even when she had entered a new school. 

“We got along instantly. She has a really sociable personality … I knew that we were going to be pretty good friends … from that moment,” Pramiti said.

With over five years of friendship, Katie and Pramiti have gotten their nails done, ice skated, visited San Francisco and gone to several dances together. Constantly reaching out to one another, the two friends share a strong bond.

“No matter what anyone’s going through, or whatever she was going through at the time, she always manages to check in on me … And that’s why we’re so close, because we managed to check in on each other, and she always keeps me feeling supported,” Pramiti said. “That’s the thing that stands out the most to me about her versus [other] friends.”

Close friend Rhys Edwards (12) described Katie as somewhat introverted when they first met, but he quickly recognized her constant optimism as the two became friends and also found her to be a very caring friend.

“She’s so positive. Everything that she does [is] … this ray of positive energy everywhere she goes,” Rhys said. 

Whereas Rhys views himself as more pessimistic, Katie is always upbeat and cheerful, looking at the world through rose-colored glasses while helping her friends to do the same. 

“[She] definitely makes me look on the brighter side of the story. Especially since I tend to be a little negative,” Rhys said. 

Katie cares deeply about her friends and family. Besides staying optimistic for her peers, she also strongly believes in aiding them whenever she is able to.

“Being friendly and approachable … are things that I value a lot. As a person, I’d like to be remembered as someone who would be there for you if you needed it and lend a helping hand,” Katie said.