Courtesy: Rhonda Chandler
Here I am. I knew this day would come, and yet I am unprepared. It is a few years earlier than I thought so perhaps that is why I am befuddled. As of this morning, I am no longer a swim mom. I know it seems trivial to say. How can something my children do identify me so much? But here I sit, with alligator tears in my eyes, knowing I will never watch my children swim another competitive race again. It’s killing me.
It started over 12 years ago, and if I think about it a lot longer than that. Both sides of our family are swimmers. My uncle was competitive, swam D1 in college, and held some state records back in the day. All of us have been water babies since birth, every summer swim lessons all the way to lifeguard, and every summer spent clothed in only suits and the sheen of water on our skin. When I had children, into the pool we went. My son took his first chlorine bath at about 2 weeks old, my daughter, a Ground Hog Day baby, had to wait till 3 months of age. Time passed, but every summer, same as me, lessons and swimming every chance we got. Both kids swam independently taking breaths and unassisted across the deep end of the pool by age 4. The next summer formal lessons began with a former D1 swimmer friend who was Red Cross Certified Instructor. We were a water safe family.
The kids got a little older and we began trying some sports. Soccer and gymnastics were a couple, but nothing anyone really loved. All the usual complaints, it’s hot, I don’t like this, etc. Then one day we were leaving a pool party in my son’s 7th summer. He had a blast playing with the other kids in the water, and they figured out they could race each other swimming. He was so animated telling me all about the racing. I mentioned that we could get on a team where you could race kids in swimming. Well, for the next year he hounded me about it. I didn’t automatically sign him up because I knew what swimming was, and I wanted to make sure he was committed. I had friends in high school that swam club and varsity. I knew the time commitment it would be. But after a year of badgering, I said yes. We planned to go tryout for the team. On the way out the door that fateful day, I asked his sister if she wanted to tryout too. She was 6 and she said yes. By the end of the day we were a swim family, for better for worse.
Just like that the years rolled by. Both children were successful, enjoyed their friends, and were fit as fiddles. I served on the board of the club for over 5 years, 3 as president. What began as open meets, went to B/C, then BB, then A, and Senior Circuit, and Sectionals. We hit high school and both kids tried out for the team successfully making Varsity as 9th graders in consecutive years. It was great. I never minded the chlorine smell, or wet towels, the endless food purchased, or the weekends spent on aluminum benches. (I have always thought bleach was the best way to clean anything.) We were surrounded by great families that knew the commitment we had made and shared our lives and dreams for our kids. I simply adored watching my kids work for something so hard, and be so proud of themselves when the accomplished a new cut, or won a race.
Our daughter lost her love of it after the first year of high school. Trying to balance club, school and Varsity did not leave her the time for non-swimming friends that she desired to share her life with. After her 9th grade year, she quit club, and continued Varsity. That lasted one more year. So after exactly 10 years of swimming club, and two years of Varsity, she quit. Her words to me were, “I get up, get my suit on, and stand by that pool looking at that water, and nothing in me wants to get in and swim that line anymore. I am just done.” She was good, and could have been great. She still has the most perfect efficient stroke of any swimmer I have seen. But, she more than others, saw how much work it took to be great, and she knew it wasn’t what she wanted to sacrifice everything else for. She told me that she was impressed by people who were willing to put in the hours, laps, and work; but that it wasn’t for her. She then got her lifeguard certification and spent the next two years of high school guarding at the same pool. She made Head Lifeguard and competed in guard games for the city with her team placing third. She was the one who ended up swimming the 50 free lap in the guard relay…winning the leg. Once a swimmer always a swimmer.
My son, it has always been his sport. He did well enough to swim in college. He won several district races in high school in epic fashion occasionally – which was great fun to watch. One of my favorite memories is his 500 FR swim at district his freshman year. He and another boy on the team, who was two years older and a friend of ours, were representing our school. They were seeded in the last and fastest heat. They start the race, and my son goes out fast – too fast. He is way ahead of anyone else. The mom of the other boy was sitting beside me saying how great my son was doing, and I remember telling her that I thought he went out too fast, he wouldn’t be able to hold it. As the race went on, he just kept going with no one near him. Then she says, “Rhonda, he’s going to win! He’s going to lead start to finish!” I told her to stop talking, she was going to jinx it. He just swam like mad and beat his time from two weeks earlier by 15 seconds, winning the race by 10 seconds and led beginning to end. It was simply fantastic. Afterwards, he told me, “I don’t know what happened. I just felt perfect in the water, it was the best swim of my life.” while grinning ear to ear.
We had a lot more meets in the next four years. He transitioned to shorter distances, but never really was a sprinter. He kept going and liking swimming, loved his friends, and didn’t mind the work. He was voted Freshman swimmer of the year, MVP of the year both his junior and senior years on Varsity, as well as being Captain for the team. The time came for college. He had said he wanted to swim in college with and end goal of making Senior Nationals, but that was when he was 14 – and somewhere along the way, I quit asking what the goals were. I thought we knew.
He picked a D2 college he could get a great engineering degree and swim on the team. Freshman year was hard academically at one of the top 3 schools in the nation for engineering. His swimming was stagnant, but he also had to cope and learn how to live and train at altitude for the first time. By the end of season he did get a new best time in a 200 back, which he had never really been known for, a pleasant surprise.
Unfortunately, unbeknownst to the parents, he wasn’t enjoying it anymore.
He came home and was swimming for a week or so with his old club to stay in shape. I got home yesterday, when he should have been at practice. I said, “Aren’t you supposed to be at practice?” He said, “I’d like to talk to you.” I knew at that moment what he was going to say. From my side, I held it together. I said all the right things. I support his decision. He told me that he had originally loved the racing until around 9th grade. Then he loved the practices and friends, but slowly over the years he love diminished to only be for his friends, not the swimming. He explained that during the last 6 months it has been extremely hard to get motivated for practice and the work involved. He just didn’t want to get in the water and swim the line anymore. What surprised me is that as he told me, “I don’t think I want to swim anymore.” He was crying. And I asked why. He didn’t know exactly. But what he said was this, “I have been swimming for so long, I don’t know who I am without it.” I thought that was one of the saddest things I had every heard. My son, who is many things, had always thought of himself as only a swimmer. Not the Eagle Scout, not the A+ student, not the kind and good friend….a swimmer only.
So here I am, an avid swim mom with no child to dote upon. I have a couple of videos I won’t delete…ever. I have Meet Mobile and USA Swim apps on my phone and I can’t bring myself to delete them. Especially the USA one, it has all his times, every single one. I can remember some of the races vividly. I remember the ones he suffered through and died at the end, as well as the ones where he succeeded. How can I just let them go? He went today to talk to his coach and separate from the team, so it’s formally done. He called me when the meeting was over. I felt better about the decision because in his voice I could hear happiness and relief. His greatest obstacle was the fear disappointing all of the rest of us. I am trying to be happy for him, I am trying to hide my sadness. It is a lot like the day I dropped him off at college. My sadness is that it is over. I will selfishly miss it, his progression in the sport, and nothing form here will ever be the same.
I am the mom of swammers. Two great wonderful accomplished and brilliant individuals. Swimming gave them so many skills that translate outside of the pool to live their dry lives. I am thankful for every minute. But if I had one wish, it would be one more meet or practice where I pick them up all wet and disheveled, they jump in my car, happy as larks and chatter all the way home about the entire day. The moments in between all the swims are what made it special. And dear God do I hope I have grandchildren that swim.
About Rhonda Chandler
Rhonda Chandler resides in Plano, Texas with her husband, Kirk, their two children and four pets. She is a graduate of Texas Tech University with degrees in Journalism and English. She and her husband own a boutique wine store in Dallas, La Cave Warehouse, specializing in European wines. Her hobbies are reading, fishing, theatre, and travel.