Editorial: Coronavirus Can’t Take Your Season Away

Statistically speaking, there’s a good chance that if you’re reading this story, you, like thousands of others across the world, have had your shave and taper meet canceled or postponed by the growing coronavirus pandemic.

It’s a uniquely heartbreaking development for those who don’t understand the structure of a swim season, the buildup, the sacrifice, the delaying of gratification, the investment we spend months making into one meet. Those who don’t swim, haven’t swum, and don’t care about swimming won’t get it. But we do.

You’re going to feel that you’ve been stolen from, robbed of an opportunity. You’ll be concerned about the effects on your future – missing opportunities for cut times, records, relays, the impacts on your dream of being recruited to swim in college. Your heart will break for your teammates who are moving on – seniors, or those who are aging up or moving cities or teams. It’s OK to feel this. It’s natural, and it’s justified. Don’t let anyone tell you not to feel the pain of this loss.

This cancellation means that we will all lose history. History from the sport, a handful of the greatest swims ever, and history from our personal narratives. History is a hard thing to lose.

You’re going to feel like your meet is being trivialized, weighed against someone else’s life to make you feel bad about feeling bad. None of us are placing a swim meet above someone else’s health. But just because a swim meet isn’t the most important thing doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.

Coronavirus Can’t Take Away What Counts

You’ll look back on the sacrifices you and your teammates and your coaches made, the work you put in over weeks and months in faith that there would be a glorious payoff, a payoff now reduced to a brief e-mail about indefinite postponements and cancellations.

You may feel that the coronavirus has robbed you of an entire season. But it hasn’t.

Swimming has never been just about the destination. We put so much emphasis on the taper meet – but 90% of the taper meet is what you did to get there.

No one has an incredible taper meet and disconnects it entirely from the season that led up to it. That big drop is the product of hundreds of small steps forward – days, hours, minutes of growth as an athlete and a person, sometimes nearly invisible in the moment, but over a season, adding up to a huge leap forward.

What matters is what you learn and how you grow in the process of a season and a career. It’s not how you swim as much as who you are – and though you may not see the improvements you’ve made show up on a scoreboard in numeric form, the growth in who you are is still there.

Blame the Virus, Thank the Adversity

When feeling profound disappointment, it’s a human instinct to look for someone to blame. We want to externalize our anger, we want to channel our negative emotions somewhere outside our own heads, where they can’t continue to taunt us.

Don’t blame your clubs. Don’t blame your meet organizers. Don’t blame USA Swimming or the NCAA or your state high school league. They’re not trying to hurt you – they’re trying to protect the people you love.

You might be willing to risk getting sick to swim your meet. We believe most swimmers would be. As a physically fit athlete in your teens, 20s or 30s, you probably feel the virus doesn’t pose a significant threat to you. But the massive and sweeping responses to the coronavirus outbreak aren’t there just to protect you – they’re there to protect the ones especially at risk, particularly older people or those with chronic health conditions or weakened immune systems.

The meet was canceled to protect your grandma, who at 80 years old has a 15% chance of dying if she contract COVID-19. The meet was canceled to protect your coach, who wouldn’t miss your taper meet for the world, but, as a diabetic with an increased mortality rate from COVID-19, would be risking his life to be on a crowded pool deck for you on meet-day – just another in a long line of sacrifices he’s made for you and your teammates. The meet was canceled for the 60-year-old official who is happily retired but still volunteers her time every other weekend to make sure your club can compete.

The folks in charge had to make the gut-wrenching call to cancel the meet, and they did it knowing how badly it would hurt you. But they did it for the people you care most about. Don’t blame them. They didn’t take away your meet. Coronavirus did.

Coronavirus is the latest in a long line of things that have tried to rob you of the joy you can get from the sport of swimming. Other illnesses have tried. Blizzards have canceled your meets and practices – they’ve tried. Pool pumps have broken, budget cuts have threatened, injuries have flared.

But swimming is still going strong. You are still going strong. Nothing else has beaten you, nothing else has taken away the things you’ve gained through swimming. We’re here to tell you that with all you’ve swum through with a smile on your face, coronavirus doesn’t stand a chance.

In fact, the adversity you’ve faced has only made swimming more important to you. One of the great goals of sport is to help you develop the life skills to handle adversity. Everything you’ve overcome in the past has made you stronger, has made you the better, tougher, more well-rounded person you are today. And the pain you feel now is only going to make you better in the future.

One purpose of sports is to help develop life skills for the really important stuff. And this is really important. Coronavirus hasn’t taken swimming away from you. Swimming has prepared you to overcome coronavirus.

When competition eventually resumes – and it will – we’re going to see an explosion of times the likes of which we haven’t seen in years. We’ll get two seasons-worth of time drops at once. We’ll see swimmers transformed and times surging and leaping forward. And we’ll see a group of swimmers – and people – molded and shaped by adversity into a stronger, tougher, more resolute group than they would have been otherwise.

Coronavirus can’t take away the season that you had. It’s going to be sorry it ever tried.

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Yolo

Well it did

The Importer AND Exporter

Yep and the anger is out there. One A&M swimmer put up a middle finger to the NCAA post on the gram but then took it down.

Tim

Please turn off the water faucet, while washing your hands. Do not waste water. Thank you.

Max McQ

Oh well

Drew

Still got my training in…just indoors!

michael

yup

ACC

I understand the “it’s the journey not the destination” mindset. It’s a good way to approach something like this because it reminds you that it’s still worth it to train even if you don’t get the opportunity to compete.

That being said, I would be beyond angry if my end-of-year meet was canceled and instantly telling people to look on the bright side or tell them it’s not that bad isn’t the answer. It’s not fair to them, even if it is necessary. If your meet was canceled, you’re allowed to be angry about it.

Benedict Arnold Schwarzenegger

Did you… read it? It pretty clearly says athletes are not just allowed to be angry, but should feel that. It’s also really not about looking on the bright side and never tells athletes that things aren’t that bad. In fact, your comment doesn’t seem relevant to literally anything written here.

ACC

“90% of the taper meet is what you did to get there.” That sounds pretty much like “journey not the destination” to me. The second half was more my general feeling about the whole situation, not directed at this article in particular.

NCSwimFan

I was on deck at a championship meet, preparing to get my swimmers in the water to warm up, when we got the call that the meet was to be canceled. I think there is some value in allowing swimmers to be angry about it, but at the same time it’s important to try and emphasize to the swimmers that this is not the final step in their journey of life. Swimming is about so much more than the swim meets we all want to see the swimmers perform at. It’s about the friendships, the hard work and determination, and the unwillingness to ever give up in the face of adversity. No swimmer will really care about what place their… Read more »

Anonymous

Very good point NCSWIMFAN. If you watch the most recent Ben and Caeleb podcast, it’s a good one today and talks about the little things you remember the most, not the times you achieved. (particularly around the 28min mark Ben blows Caeleb’s mind)

Anonymous

Shame on the coaches that are trying to bully their LSC’s to go around the USA Swimming decision and try to hold meets. Do not put the volunteers and families in this kind of situation.

SSesame

I totally agree that it’s not the right thing to do. But I also realize coaches are dealing with a ton of pressure from some swimmers and parents, in addition to the fact that they feel responsible for their swimmers’ success — it’s their job. This is the damage caused by the lack of awareness in the general public. Wonder why? Not everyone is equipped with the knowledge and ability to locate reliable information, verify with trustworthy sources and generate the correct assessment of what’s going on and what is coming. One of the strongest voice in the country (sadly) has been telling people “it’s a flu”.

Blastman

If this happened in March of 2010, my son would not have had the opportunity to have the best meet of his life which was the difference in him getting accepted to the college of his choice or being rejected. Had this Wuhan virus exploded then, he would not have gotten into his first choice school.
I feel for those high school seniors who are in the same situation, needing one last big meet to get into their college of choice and not getting the opportunity.
This is a life changing event for so many on so many levels.

Nswim

I was literally in the middle of my second taper practice when all three of my championship meets were canceled. It’s hard not to be angry knowing that I never got a full rest this season to finally try to drop time, this was the first full season I’ve had without an injury in multiple years

Paul Windrath

What is really sad is the reality of this virus is that the vast majority of people under 50 (even 60) without underlying health issues will experience only mild illness and symptoms (just like the regular cold and flu). The highly at risk population is 70 + over. This means that the championships could have been held with limitations to the number of spectators and the hugely vast majority would have been fine. The least likely affected by this are the athletes who had it taken away. NCAA and other athletic conference made poorly informed decisions – just my opinion.

ACC

It’s not about protecting the athletes, it’s about containing the spread. Even if they didn’t get seriously ill, they would spread it to other people.

moddiddle

It’s about managing the numbers. Rumor has it from friends in Italy that doctors have to choose between who they let live and die because of not enough capacity. We don’t want to be in that scenario

Caroline

It is about protecting the athletes. As someone who would not be able to attend the meets bc they are high risk even if they did happen I am glad that they are cancelled so others don’t get opportunities that I can’t have.

SwimFan49

Until a few days ago, I shared this view, Paul. But more learning has made me realize it’s not at all about my ability to easily survive it (I’m entering middle-agish), or young, super fit athetes, etc. It’s ALL about controlling the spread so that those who would be most vulnerable don’t get it. Why? So that we don’t become a larger example of what has happened in Italy, where hospitals are maxed out and health care resources aren’t in sufficient supply. All about “flattening the curve.” Our ability to achieve that will help to care for not just those who become seriously ill with this virus, but will free up health care resources in our system for those who… Read more »

Anonymous

As stated in the article, look around a pool deck. It’s the coaches and volunteers too that would gladly put themselves in harms way, and have done so to support the swimmers. Neither I, nor my swimmer, would feel good about asking these elderly volunteers and coaches to subject themselves to the spread.

SwimMom

Anonymous: the greater public good is at play here. Stop the spread, don’t bring people together. I feel badly for the swimmers, I honestly do.

Samesame

You need to look at articles from other countries then

Troyy

You do know these healthy people then go home to other family members who may be older or have compromised health like myself who is immunocompromised? The social distancing isn’t just about protecting yourself, it’s about slowing the spread. Such an ignorant comment.

Awsi Dooger

This is an incredibly ignorant comment. As others have already mentioned, containment is the issue not…”I can survive it so who cares about anybody else?” Besides, indications are that surviving this virus doesn’t necessarily mean no damage at all. On Friday I saw two doctors say that half of the survivors regardless of age have indications of lung scarring that might be permanent and could lead to issues down the road. Both doctors said it is still too early to tell if this will apply throughout the survivor base, once the sample is greater and more scans are done. But they had somber tone while discussing it, as if what they had seen so far is not good. Some predictable… Read more »

SSesame

I am feeling less desperate reading the other comments responding to Paul’s thoughts, as I see more and more people now see the real issues we are dealing with thus there will be hope that we can flatten the curve and slow the spread. Let’s share that with everyone we know and build the link faster than the virus!

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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