Courtesy: Celina German
In late May, I scrolled through my Instagram to see Speedo USA’s new hashtag #SwimOn. I, a loyal swimmer for many years, struggle with the right re-entry protocol to practices and pools. I became weary that the hashtag #SwimOn was a literal translation, meaning swim onward despite the challenge. However, 15 to 18-year-olds were teaching 21-year-old me that #SwimOn is more than just the verb. Athletes replied that the hashtag is about the community coming together, motivation, and hope of returning to swimming practice one day. Now, in my mind, #SwimOn is to Endure On, to feel like you might be swimming upstream, but you are still kicking. From this mental exercise, I wish to explore the broader implications that swimming has taught me. I believe specific swimming experiences are intertwined with universal teachings that we all can learn from. I present you a laundry list of swimming-life lessons, metaphors, and anecdotes from a person who patiently awaits whatever her last year of collegiate swimming will bring.
1. Poorly Executed Streamlines do not Predict Slow Finishes
From one false starter to another, I assure you that I am no good at standing still on the blocks before the whistle is blown. I was infamously known on my club team as “the one who got a qualifying cut yet false-started.” For those who don’t know, false starting can be called if the swimmer excessively moves their feet on the block before the race. Because of my age-group wiggliness, I created a fear infused habit. I banked on my fast-twitch muscles to get me off the block even if I did wait a little longer to ensure never getting disqualified again. It was a long battle back to trusting myself that I could stay calm but react quickly after the whistle. I remember my 2017 senior state 50 free prelim race. It had been years since I false-started. I got on the block, waiting to hear the official. With loud heats of people behind me, I listened for my turn to pounce. The whistle was a faint whisper. I saw my competitors diving in before the official blew again the whistle, this time louder. I dove in with such a strong drive to win that, at the turn, I barely had anyone in front of me. I dug at the water and ended up in first with no one, not even the official, expecting me to shine.
If you haven’t already, you will experience times when you have no one expecting you to accomplish anything. Like a parent returning for a degree or a seventh-grader advancing to a high school algebra class, feeling behind at the start, sometimes, gives us renewed interest to get ahead. Especially now, my fellow swimmers might feel behind on training, don’t cap your hopes and dreams simply because no one has gone through this before.
2. Missing your Event Happens
I still remember my first event that I missed. Heat 3 of Girls 11-12 100 Fly was quickly coming up, and I was goofing around with my best friend without a care in the world. I was walking away from the bleachers and saw the scoreboard. That’s when I tripped over my own jaw. I was so embarrassed that I froze, avoided my coach for another fifteen minutes, and paced frantically trying to solve the insolvable. My coach came up to me eventually, still a little vexed. However, he was nowhere as worried as me. He just reminded me of my next race. Since then, before most meets, I’ll unwillingly dream about something going horribly awry at the meet. I might accidentally miss an event, wear the wrong suit, etc. I often wake up chuckling the next morning, knowing that any night terrors can’t faze me anymore. There will always be another race. I assure you.
I will bet all the pennies in my house that we all, the collective readers of this article, have in this quarantine either missed or were extremely late to a zoom meeting, heck, maybe even a work-related one. I used to sweat the little stuff at the beginning too. I also kept dwelling on all the “events” (summer trips, study abroad experiences, birthday parties, meets) I am currently missing. If you still feel that way, find solace in the future that awaits you with open arms. Embrace your upcoming events and #SwimOn.
3. You Will Make the Most Unexpected Friends at Swim Meets
I’ve had my fair share of Zones, IHSAAs, Sectionals, and other championships that afford swimmers from multiple states to convene and race together. I probably at one time, in my uninformed childhood days, thought that the whole United States was composed of my beloved home state of Indiana because I couldn’t imagine a bigger world. At one of my first summer Zones meets, I met some swimmers from Ohio. Could you even imagine how excited I was to hear someone lived outside of the state of Indiana?! It was mind-boggling. We swam in the same warmup lane, owned the same goggles, heard about Justin Bieber’s new movie, and just got along! It made me really happy seeing both of our separate worlds of swimming collide on that hot sunny day in August.
We live right now in such a politically, socially, economically diverse time, where people can make a playlist of the news, tv, and media they want to watch and engage with. Globalization doesn’t require us to come across the same news article or video unless it is viral. At times, life and its people can feel so polarized. When it feels like there is no common ground, think of me and my first Ohio friend, who was different yet similar to me. Without swimming, I wouldn’t have met her. Search for and uncover your similarities with people you might not expect.
4. Swimming is as Much About What Happens Outside the Pool as it is About What Happens in the Pool
I once had an employer ask me when will their kids “like” swimming. I asked them to define what it means to enjoy the sport. They said, “You know, enjoy it enough to attend practice and eventually swim fast.” I thought back to when I started liking swimming and when I began swimming “fast.” I concurred that the day I started enjoying swimming was when I fell in love with the time outside of swimming. That utterly confused him. However, my fellow swimmers out there, don’t you agree that all the tik-tok dances you practice on deck before diving in, or the carpool talks when you’re going home, or your summer adventures in between double practices make the sport worthwhile? Don’t get me wrong. I love hard work as much as the next high-achieving athlete. I just knew that when I was having fun and enjoying life, I believed in my strengths and raced with more heart.
Reading the fourth bullet point out loud amidst a pandemic seems ironic and a tad comical. I can assure you that, in all my days in quarantine, there has not been one day I woke up and said, “Ah, yes. This feels like swimming.” Because it doesn’t. Right now, if you haven’t gotten the approval to return, swimming feels like it has everything to do with a pool, a scoreboard, a loud coach, and lane lines. I challenge you to remind yourself that your teammates have a storm of swim memories, waiting to be relived with you. Relive them. Why do people watch reruns if there are new movies in theaters? Some classics just remain our favorites. Let those classics (your teammates, memories, swim jokes) remain your favorites until you make new ones.
5. The Washed-up Alum Remains Both the Olympic Wannabe and the Competitive Age Grouper.
As I enter my last year at Kenyon College, even before COVID-19 became the theme of 2020, I knew senior year would be uncharted waters. I am not sure if it’s just me, but when I go to a new pool, new championship, or new team, I feel I am entering alone, void of my previous experiences, achievements, and identities. Part of me believes that I act this way because of the saying, “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” I always felt it demands that we reinvent ourselves at every turn. Famous example: you qualify for NCAAs, but you get to the pool and are unsure of yourself and your caliber.
While most of the world is going through their first pandemic, you might be questioning if your ship can conquer these uncharted waters. When you return to your work, will you feel like the same employee equipped for your job? When I return to collegiate athletics, will I feel like the same swimmer that can qualify for nationals? To be honest, I don’t know. What is based in fact, however, is that I once wanted to be an Olympic swimmer. I also somehow swam fast enough in age group that I podium-ed quite a bit. These accomplishments never can be taken away from me. While I don’t like seeing my reflection in old trophies or staring at the colorful layers of ribbons of yesteryear, I have been leaning into my past successes. Thinking of previous moments of success makes me believe that I’m equipped to get through this adverse moment too. We remain the same people we were before COVID-19, just now with more experience. With that, I remind you all to #SwimOn.
ABOUT CELINA GERMAN
Born and raised in Bloomington, Ind., Celina German has been swimming since she was five, visiting her local outdoor pool. After those summers, there was no turning back! Celina continued on to represent Counsilman Center Indiana Swim Team, Team Indiana, and Fishers Area Swim Tigers. In 2017, she matriculated into Kenyon College, after being recruited to swim. Now, she is a rising senior, majoring in History and concentrating in Women’s and Gender Studies. Learning to navigate the fluctuating course of collegiate athletics and rigorous academics is probably one of her favorite challenges! She loves pulling from every skillset possible to establish her sea legs. Celina plans on applying for graduate school in African American studies and pursuing a career in publishing. It is highly probable she will join masters swimming!