I grew up loving the water. At the age of two, I swam with my mom for the first time, and according to her, “I was addicted“. By the age of five, I had started taking swim lessons, and by eight, on my first competition team.
But to be honest, I began to race myself more than others. I wanted self-respect and to fulfill goals that had been set for me by coaches and mentors alike. Suddenly, swimming began to get Not Fun.
My Slow Decline
Gone were the days of playing Mermaids and doing cannonball contests at the end of practices. Then came timed sets on Mondays, two part meets every weekend, and rushing to practices after school.
It was hard to love the water now. What was once a welcoming presence became a threat to my mental health. Meets became anxiety-riddled, and going up to the blocks made my hands clammy.
Talking to friends about swimming became less about new swimsuits and friends. Instead, it became hyper-analyzing our times and pitting ourselves against each other.
I didn’t see it as luck then, but in seventh grade, I began to have back pain while swimming. They told me it was just scoliosis, leaving me in pain. The next year, doctors told me it was a fracture in my L4 vertebrae.
This meant three months of no swimming.
I completely broke down in the doctor’s office.
But I would be back before champs, and that’s what mattered, I told myself.
But three months turned into six as I realized I wasn’t getting better anytime soon.
When I finally got back in the water, I realized my team had left me behind.
My friends had moved on to bigger and better pursuits.
With new teams and experienced coaches,
The highlights of their careers were yet to come.
I didn’t know it yet, but I had peaked.
Realizing that I couldn’t catch up, I admitted defeat.
I made the decision to quit club swim the summer before my freshman year.
I had finally quit year round, the activity that had taken up my afternoons and weekends for the past six years.
I saw my unhealthy eating patterns beginning to catch up with me.
I kept ramen in my room “just in case”, along with Coca-Cola to wash it down.
I ignored it so easily during swim because I had burned so many calories that it “didn’t really matter anyways”.
I had no idea how to exercise outside of swim practice.
Up until that moment, every workout and activity had been planned for me.
What was I supposed to do without my trusty kickboard sets?
I would get into the pool and feel stupid, empty, and alone.
My relationship with swimming had gone from one of love, compassion, and joy, to just not knowing what to do anymore.
I couldn’t go any further.
Like any other recovery, learning to love the water and rekindle my relationship with it took some time.
It had lots and LOTS of setbacks.
First up was high school swim team. Here, I felt fast and confident, like how I’d felt at the peak of my club swim career. But with that confidence came lots and lots of anxiety.
What should have been a fun way to spend time with friends while bonding became yet another competition for me.
I ignored the fact that I hadn’t properly swam in a year.
My only goal was to impress my coaches and show them i still had the talent.
Ignoring the fact that I hadn’t properly swam in a year, I kept challenging myself and causing unnecessary anxiety.
The reason why?
For me, swimming was a way of getting value; a measurement of how successful of a person I was. I had put all my identity in swimming.
To me, everything hinged on how well I could pull some water in a hole dug into the ground.
Learning to rethink that mentality isn’t easy, and I’m still on that journey today.
I wish I had a happy, ending that would reassure every swimmer and swammer out there that everything would be all right.
I wish I told them the water would love them for who they were.
But, I still have those days.
I have days where I get in the pool and have absolutely zero idea what I’m doing, and push myself until I feel like I can’t breathe.
I have days where I take a simple high school practice too seriously. I have to get on the wall and remind myself that one race doesn’t define who I am as an athlete, or even as a person.
I have days where I think through the what-ifs.
What if I hadn’t gotten injured or quit the club team, or even that I had just been a little bit tougher.
Could I have “manned up” and just dealt with the pressure?
I wish I had answers to this, so I could wrap it up nice and clean.
But as many swammers know, you never completely close your swim career.
So here’s my conclusion.
Begin loving the sport.
Go back to your roots. Flash back to the earliest time you remember in the water.
Try to figure out what it was that made you keep getting in.
Day after day.
Good days and bad days, both physical and mental.
Start over from there, andgraduallyeverything falls into place.