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From Spare Parts to World Championships
When I was in elementary school, in our living room cluttered with robotics parts, my journey into the universe of robotics began. I was interested by the vast array of parts that I saw scattered across the living room. Little did I know that this would embark me on a journey that would change my life in ways I would never have imagined when I started.
Fast forward to today, as a high school sophomore, looking back on my experience through robotics. My story wasn’t just about robotics, it shows the power of curiosity and persistence. It's a reminder that sometimes, the most extraordinary adventures begin with a single spark of interest. This is my journey in the world of robotics—a journey filled with tough challenges, great triumphs, and invaluable lessons. I am dedicating this experience to my team and coach without which I will not be able to share this with you.
Back in my 3rd grade, my brother's robotics team was setting up their field in our living room. I was intrigued by their components and the focus of the team, I found myself naturally drawn to robotics. After their season concluded, their spare parts were abandoned. In the following months, I spent hours tinkering with those parts, building and coding robots. Little did I know what I was getting myself into.
Fast forward three years, and I found myself starting middle school as a 6th grader. It was then that my father asked me a simple yet pivotal question which started a new chapter in my journey: "Would you like to join the robotics club?" Excited, I stepped into the world of robotics, where I met a community with like-minded individuals who shared my passion for creating and learning. We started as a team of four middle schoolers who barely knew each other. However, our friendship grew along with our minds, and we all shared a curiosity about robotics. Entering robotics, I expected to have fun and enjoy it, however, I did not expect how profoundly robotics would shape my life and the level of success we would achieve over time. We began as an average team in our first season, lost in the world of robotics, struggling to navigate and perform well. But as the season progressed, we improved steadily, eventually making it to the state-level tournament and feeling satisfied with our performance. Our progress continued until we surprised ourselves by qualifying for the world championship in our first year. Our excitement about participating in the big stage of the world’s tournament was short-lived as the pandemic struck, halting our meetings, and canceling the world championship tournament.
The following year forced us to adapt to the pandemic. We worked together in a COVID bubble, with our four families supporting one another while isolating ourselves from the rest of the world, robotics bonded us together. Despite the uncertainties, it was announced that the competitions would be virtual. We spent lots of time practicing, learning, and adapting to the new, online format. Through these efforts, we qualified for the worlds championship for the second year in a row. In a competition with 300 teams from around the globe, we teamed up with a team from Canada, winning our division and securing a fourth-place finish worldwide.
Having tasted success in seventh grade and with competitions returning to in-person formats, we eagerly entered our third season as eighth graders, which would also be our final middle school year. We vowed to finish strong as our team had become very well known in the robotics community due to our distinctive robot design, consistent autonomous runs, and rapid, high scoring driving. Riding on our reputation and hard work, we garnered a total of seventeen awards during the season, establishing ourselves as a favorite to win the world championship and one of the best teams in the USA. Our goal heading into the world championship was to win, and we were confident in our team's ability to do just that. Competing against 800+ teams at the world championship in three days, we secured second place at the world stage, falling short by just one second to the teams that got first place.
When I share our second-place achievement with others, they often inquire about the prize, they are always surprised that it's only a trophy without any monetary rewards. However, what motivates and drives me isn't monetary gain, it's my genuine love for robotics. Collaborating with friends, brainstorming, designing, building, and meticulously refining code, along with the relationships formed with other robotics enthusiasts, keeps me passionate. The concepts I learned extend beyond robotics and coding. This journey has taught me crucial life skills such as perseverance, patience, leadership, and teamwork. Transitioning from eighth grade to freshman year in high school brought about numerous changes. The robotics components, electronics, playing field, and even competitors seemed more complex, better, and simultaneously more challenging. It felt just like my first year of middle school, but this time, I was confident in my ability to overcome challenges, knowing that I and my teammates had triumphed previously.
During the summer, we dedicated substantial time to brainstorming, building, and coding our robot in preparation for competitions. At our initial contest, we exceeded our expectations, securing the top three awards and qualifying for the state level competition. Remarkably, we succeeded despite being freshmen competing against high school juniors and seniors. As we progressed from one competition to the next, we honed the robot's design and code based on lessons we learned and interactions between other teams and judges. During the winter break, we made the decision to completely overhaul the robot's design and rewrite the code. We worked tirelessly and ended up qualifying for the world championship as a first-year high school team.
The six weeks between the state and world championships proved to be the most intense period of robotics. We simplified the robot, making it faster and more efficient. Throughout spring break, my team and I coded, tested, and documented in the engineering notebook. Frustration occasionally set in when code that worked one day failed the next due to minor changes in the robot's design, the field, or other factors. Nevertheless, I persisted, surmounting these challenges, and maintaining composure. Together, we journeyed to Dallas for the world championship.
Upon arriving at the world championship, we engaged extensively with teams from around the world, scouting our division's competitors since our matches weren’t until the second day. Despite a demanding schedule, we won most of our matches, beat some of the best teams in the world and reached the division semi-finals. Although we were eventually eliminated in the semi-finals, I felt immense pride in our accomplishments, and we could not wait to carry these experiences and learnings into future tournaments.
Over the past five years, my involvement in robotics has deepened my understanding of robot design, improved my building skills, and helped me master coding. Collaborating within a team and engaging in competitions taught me efficient time management, effective planning, and organization amidst competing priorities like high school coursework and other extracurriculars. I've learned to adapt swiftly when a robot malfunctions or the code fails, making rapid adjustments to improve and fix problems. The competitions are often high stress, through robotics I have learned to stay calm in these situations and keep going.
This journey has also instilled in me the importance of caring for teammates and maintaining a team-first mentality. When a teammate falters or frustrations arise, I step back to consider the bigger picture and maintain unity within the team. Beyond robotics and coding, I've gained valuable life skills such as empathy, resilience, and effective communication. As I transition into my sophomore year of high school, my passion for robotics and the lessons learned continue to motivate me. I am looking forward to more learnings, experience and more importantly growing as a person.
As I look back on my five-year journey in the world of robotics, I am reminded of the simple curiosity that led me to tinker with spare parts in my living room. Little did I know that this initial spark of interest would ignite a passion that has guided me through middle school and now into my sophomore year of high school. My experience in robotics has taught me the power of exploration and persistence. It's about taking that first step into the unknown, embracing new challenges, and staying committed to what you love. The trophies and awards are just tokens of our achievements; the true rewards lie in the friendships formed, the skills acquired, and the personal growth achieved. So, to my fellow students and anyone contemplating stepping into uncharted territory: go ahead, try something new, learn new skills, and follow your dreams. Your journey may not always be smooth, but the lessons you'll learn, the people you'll meet, and the person you'll become are worth every moment of the adventure. In the end, it's not about the destination, it's about the journey. Robotics was my journey, and it has been an incredible one. What will yours be?