Dear Swimming: A Swim Mom’s Message To The Sport As Her Daughter Graduates

Courtesy: Sara Beth Roberts

Dear Swimming,

At three years old I gave you a shy, timid little girl; or maybe I never gave her to you and she was always chosen. Yes, I’m sure that’s how it works–this sport chooses people. She swam backstroke for the first time on a warm June day, and looked at me with terrified eyes the entire time. “You can do this!” I cheered from the side of the pool, a memory that I will carry with me forever, and even use it myself on some of my harder days.

At four she was chosen to swim at an away meet in the A relay against a rival summer league team, but she wasn’t sure if she knew how to swim in a different pool. When the whistle blew, and she looked at me with doubt, I pushed her little body right into the water. She popped up and started paddling all the way to the other side. She never really looked back again, but she did doubt herself.

At nine when she joined TIDE swimming, she doubted if she’d ever be good enough to make it to Age Groups. At 10, she got her first Age Group cut in the 50 free at a worn-out pool in Williamsburg. At 11 she wanted to add another in the 500 Free this time, and I will never forget her teammates cheering from the pool deck. At 12 she swam her first mile in Christiansburg, and at the end, with goggles half full of water, she said: “I’m never doing that again.” She went on to do it again over 20 more times. At 13, with a canceled last age groups, and what felt like all of her hopes and dreams, you left her feeling defeated and broken–only her desire remained the same.

The middle years, these were the growing years, and they came with more tears than we could possibly count. I told her at some point she needed to take a break, but she said she wanted to see how this thing ends. At 15, she won her first state championship with her team as a freshman. Two more followed her sophomore and junior year, along with multiple records and All-American titles. But swimming never makes anything easy, and her senior year, the dream fell just a little bit short. To this day, she still isn’t ready to talk about it. Swimming never makes it easy, but it never leaves you the same either.

The recruiting journey was full of highs and lows, more doubt, and apprehension. When she asked for advice from her coach, he wisely said: “When you know, you’ll know.” She wasn’t so sure about that, but in September of her senior year, she knew she had found the right place. When she committed to swim at Liberty, she looked at me and said: “I wish I could go back and tell her.”

“Tell who?” I asked.

“Myself– that little girl when I was eight years old, who wanted this more than anything, but doubted it would ever work out. I wish I could tell her how this journey ends.”

“Me too,” I said.

However, that’s the thing about any worthwhile journeys–we don’t know at the beginning what the end is going to look like. We often start as a shy, timid person, and we become a strong capable individual because of all of the ups and downs, and the highs and lows, the no thank you and the maybe laters.

We gave you so much time, a lot of money, and plenty of frustrations and in return, you provided us with more joy than we could ever have imagined. You gave us friends and teammates and coaches that changed our lives forever. You returned a team member, a state champion, a future college athlete, and someone who understands it doesn’t always work out and that’s OK. You taught us that in this life there is enough room for success for everyone. Maybe more importantly, you taught us to stay in our own lane.

I recently told the TIDE board that what I would remember most is spending so much time with her. Coach Richard jokingly said, “You don’t remember when she broke two minutes in the 200 free?” The answer is no, but I do remember when we dyed their hair blue, and it all came out in the pool during warm-ups. And when we walked in the snow to a little Italian restaurant and ate dinner together in Richmond. And when Nate went back to the hotel and almost missed his swim off at Age Groups, and the whole team cheered from behind the blocks. I will miss time in the lobby, with other swim moms, who taught me how to drink crappy wine from plastic cups. I will miss driving a van full of tired swimmers home from Cary, North Carolina, and looking in the rearview mirror at all their sleeping faces, and thinking how amazing that I get to live this swim life.

So swimming, and especially TIDE, Coach Cat, Coach Sarah, Coach Sandra, Coach Hayley, Coach Scott, Coach Danny, Coach Mike and Coach Richard, I gave you one of my most prized possessions and you gave her back, but not unchanged. I never expected you to make an Olympian; It was never for the medals, it was always for something bigger. Thank you for taking my shy and timid little girl, and turning her into a beautiful adult, who I know is capable of handling whatever comes her way. I’m glad swimming is not done, but it’s different now, and I know she is ready.

A Tired, Happy Swim Mom


Sara Beth Roberts lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia with her husband Tyler and their 4 children. She has worn many hats over the years, but being a swim mom to Addy has been one of her very favorites. She is a board member for TIDE Swimming, and has loved being involved in the swimming community from her local summer league pool to high school swimming.

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28 days ago

Thank you for this moving and inspiring article! I have 2 teenage daughters whose main sport is swimming also. Many good memories over the years.

Always a volunteer
29 days ago

God speed to your daughter, may her future be as bright as her swimming career. As I read your letter, my wife and I looked at each other and acknowledge a very if not identical journey. Next year will be our daughter senior year swimming at college. The sport has given her so many memories to cherish from freshman year not making the NCAA cut to her Sophomore year making it just in the relays and this year, her junior year being able to podium at NCAA Champs and reaching all American status. So you are so on point what a wonderful sport. At the end I also have kept volunteering in swimming. I have become that “old official” that… Read more »

1 month ago

Swimming did the same for me. I swam from age 7 till I graduated high school at age 17. 4 years varsity in high school. Swimming kept me focused, in shape, and out of trouble.

1 month ago

I feel this so much.

1 month ago

This is beautiful – thank you for sharing!

Mark Rauterkus
1 month ago

Sweet reflection! Thanks for sharing.

Let’s all go to Liberty University in December and celebrate fast swimming, make new memories and compete in the meet.

1 month ago

Beautifully written & I’m sure a lot of other swim parents could also relate to your sentiments. Best of luck to your daughter as she embarks on a new chapter of her life in college!

1 month ago

This is beautiful and exactly how I felt last year when my daughter graduated. Thanks for sharing! Best to your daughter as she starts a new chapter in her life.