Courtesy of Donna Hale
My daughter just competed in her last ever SCY Champs Potomac Valley Swim Meet. Sure there is the long course season, summer swim, and for her college swimming in the NCAA. But this an ending to a journey of a five-year-old competing in her first ever SCY race in the 25 fly at a college pool in VA coming full circle last weekend at an even bigger college pool racing in the 200 fly SCY one last time. I did not know whether to smile or sob, but my heart took over and the moment was a little of both. I wish I could say it was her best race ever. But the truth is it was not even close. She has struggled through injury and illness so the beauty for me is that she loves swimming so much that she’ll do anything to compete. At that moment I saw the little swim princess who had no idea that those early days would take her all the way to the NCAA. In her early years that race would have reduced her to tears. On this day, she took it in stride and celebrated her fastest 50 free ever. Swimming has taught her to savor the journey. To fail with grace. Succeed with dignity. And embrace what might be possible tomorrow.
This is for all the parents of the little eight and unders starting out and maybe too for the senior parents I have met and loved along the way. Here is what we’ve learned in this crazy, amazing, tumultuous, and incredible journey. I would not trade even one moment.
If you are a young swimmer or a parent who wonders sometimes if there are better ways to spend your weekends, evenings and money, the answer is absolutely not. Not only will Swimming change your child, it will also profoundly impact you. Here are just a few jewels from our 13-14 year journey
1. Passion is mandatory if you are to get the most from this sport. The swimmers who have the most impact on their teams and the sport, and these are not necessarily the Olympians, love the water, cherish the sport, and will walk through fire to compete. It’s literally in their veins.
2. Winning is not everything. But giving each race your personal best is vital. It’s all anyone can do. Push to the limits in that race on that day. It is the hallmark of courage and character. And it is the backbone of champions.
3. Every coach has something to teach you. To expect a flawless relationship, especially at the highest levels is not realistic. There will be periods of complete disconnect, disappointment over unmet expectations, and much more. This is why so many senior swimmers change teams so often. But there are lessons to be learned through loyalty and tenacity. They will stay with you for a lifetime.
4. Your teammates are your everything. They are your companions on this long whirlwind journey. And sometimes they wear different caps. They are there for the good, bad, and everything in between. Cherish them. You will remember them forever. Locker room antics. Mounds of pasta consumed. Tons of wet towels.
5. Swim parents are the unheralded angels of this sport. Cherish each other. I am already trying to imagine life without seeing the many friends I’ve met in this sport. It’s a void I can’t even imagine how I can fill it. They are treasured by me and my swimmer.
6. The sport belongs to the swimmer – period. Coaches, parents, and swim officials are there for the journey. But it is up to each athlete to choose where they will go. Many incredibly talented athletes forgo college swimming. Others, who have maybe not as much pure talent, pursue college swimming with an intense passion. In the end, it is your child’s choice.
I am privileged and honored to have been a swim parent. And it looks like I am lucky to hold this title a few more years. Enjoy it fellow swim parents – every race, every moment, every sleep deprived early morning meet. To those I have known and loved along the way, thank you. I love you. The journey goes on.
Donna Hale has been a swim mom for 12 years as well as executive of several nonprofit organizations. She volunteers regularly for her daughter Hannah’s USA Team The Potomac Marlins, summer team Burke Station Destroyers, and Lake Braddock Swim and Dive Bruins.