If we’re assessing speed, I was a pretty average swimmer. My technique was great, but I was never in a place to go for the gold. This being said, I would not have wanted to participate in anything else as my primary sport while I was growing.
A part of me is always hesitant in writing about swimming because I feel as though I am an imposter. I know plenty of folks who continued to swim in college, and plenty who participated in junior nationals and the Olympic trials. I did not do any of these things, and I was not even close to doing any of these things, but the sport still means a lot to me. One can see it in the way I talk about it or while I am teaching others how to swim. Swimming is a life sport, and I truly believe that everyone should at least know the basics. In my opinion, it is important for survival.
The resilience that swimming requires extensive. We’re talking a five am wake up to plunge yourself into cold water for three hours. Your goggles or cap breaks during a race and you keep swimming. You run into the lane line or, god forbid, smack heads or hands with another swimmer while doing backstroke and you keep swimming. Your hair freezes in the winter and all of your things may smell slightly of chlorine, but you are back at the pool the next day. You slip and fall on deck, you feel embarrassed, and then you stand up and keep walking (don’t run!). You swim thousands of yards, and then you swim thousands more. You have spun yourself into too many flip turns to count (and you’re, surprisingly, not at all dizzy), and then you flip too many more. For those of you who are wondering, yes, swimmers do sweat. Our cheeks can flush and our bodies can feel warm in the water if we’re working hard enough (which, as a competitive swimmer, was always). Though it may seem obvious, swimmers truly do understand the phrase “just keep swimming.” It holds a different meaning for us.
Although I run a lot more now, and do more dry land workouts in general, I still try to swim occasionally (at least pre-COVID pandemic). Every time I do, I realize how much I miss it. Every time I walk, drive, or fly past a body of water, all I want to do is swim. I think back to my swimming days with a lot of nostalgia. Even though swimming is an “individual” sport, one can never grow closer to a group of people. The energy at a swim practice or meet is unparalleled, and this makes sense as we all have to cheer a bit louder considering the races, well, happen in the water. You do an open turn during breaststroke or butterfly and you have friends screaming, practically in your face, to keep going.
Swimmers work their entire bodies. They can pull muscles and have severe injuries, and their shoulders are pretty broad. The sport can be scary to watch at times, but it is also beautiful. The ripples in the water and the perfect butterfly stroke can compensate for all of the negatives. Swimmers’ legs and feet work so much just under the surface of the water, and all of this is invisible to the standard eye. We had pancake tans from swimming outside in the summer, and we would always joke that the football team could not get through one of our practices.
The best part about swimming, though, is the fact that it taught me so many life lessons. I know that a lot of sports do this, but I learned to visualize, which is an important part of calming one’s mind and meditation, from swimming. Imagining oneself gliding through water provides a new level of tranquility. I exercised my math skills during every practice while counting laps or calculating time, and I could (and still can) do all of this quickly. Practices did, quite literally, consist of quick maths. The sport also pushed me in so many ways that I did not know I could be. I would be awake at five am and head over to the pool for a couple of hours. I would come back after school and swim even more. I would swim thousands of yards and then head to my next extra-curricular activities, and I would do my homework on top of all of that. Would I dive into a pool at five thirty or six am anymore? Probably not, but at least I know that my mind and my body can do it. The pool was the best, and my personal favorite, tissue. I could cry and no one would even notice because we were all immersed in water. I could be so angry at the world and express all of it through my strokes and kicks. My first job entailed teaching kids how to swim, and I learned that I really love doing so.
I learned that even though we were all participating in the same practices and meets, we all viewed success and felt pressure differently. I learned to be okay with not being the best, or anywhere near it, and I recognized that not being the fastest swimmer gave me so much opportunity to excel in other aspects of my life (and I think that I have!) while still holding the sport close to me.
Keep your pools cold and your hearts warm.