Written and courtesy of Hillary Atkinson.
As many of you know, taking time out of the sport of swimming can be tough. Getting back into the sport of swimming…even tougher. I was a competitive swimmer from age 6 to 21. When my senior year of college swimming ended, of course I was ready to be done. Who isn’t?! But it didn’t last very long (about 1 month to be exact) until I was back in the pool. I did not train the way I used to. Nor did I swim frequently enough to build back all the endurance and strength that I used to have. In fact, I was only swimming about once a week for 30 minutes at a time…nothing nearly close to the 3 hour practices, 6 days a week that I did in college. But no matter whether I went a week or a month between workouts, I could always find my rhythm in the water. Swimming was always natural. I may not have been as fast or as strong as I used to be, but I would always feel like I still had it.
Then, this year, I stopped swimming. I’m not sure why. Maybe I felt that I finally needed that long break that everyone talks about. Or maybe it was that I was too busy with my job. But whatever the reason, it was a terrible one. A retired swimmer should never stay out of the water too long! Here are 6 realizations I had while struggling through the 2,000 yards that I swam for the first time in over a year.
- Your legs basically become inactive in the water. Not that my legs were ever my strength. But seriously, I couldn’t coordinate my kicking with my arms. I was just trying to stay afloat!
- Even if you do yoga-type classes or frequent stretching, your body will forget how to be flexible. Streamline hurts. Yes, even something as natural as a streamline. My shoulders felt like they’ve been stuck at my sides for ages, which made streamlining feel very unnatural.
- You forget how to keep track of your laps. I used to be the one who always knew how many laps into the set we were. I even knew how many laps into the set the people 3 lanes away on a different interval were. I love math and my brain just works that way. But after a year off, I could barely keep track for a 2,000! For all I know, I swam more than that!
- Good news. You will not forget how to feel the water. You definitely won’t feel as strong, even if you continue to lift weights. But your natural stroke technique will always come back.
- Your off strokes may become your best strokes. Seriously! I used to be a backstroker and you’d never believe how much my shoulders hurt after swimming some easy backstroke. My breaststroke used to be terrible. Trust me. If you’d ask any of my past coaches, they would tell you they never wanted to sit around to wait for me to complete a breaststroke set. But something amazing happened after a year off. I became a breaststroker! My breaststroke felt so smooth. I felt like I was flying through the water!
- You will definitely not miss the goggle marks that stay on your eye sockets for at least 12 hours after your workout. (Or maybe you will.)
Good luck to anyone trying to get back into it! It is definitely an experience that I never thought would happen to me. And I hope it doesn’t happen to any of you. Swimming is a great lifetime sport and a competitive swimmer should never let that go.
Hillary Atkinson is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She swam for Trident Swim Club/Diplomat Swim Club since she was 7 years old. In high school, she also swam for the Hempfield Swim Team. In college, she swam for Towson University. After college, she came back and coached for Diplomat Swim Club.