Kelly Offutt is a two-time NCAA Division I National Championship meet qualifier, and a year after finishing her career at the University of Virginia, she still ranks 5th all-time in program history in the 500 free.
It’s been almost 15 months since my swimming career ended. Throughout that time, I have been asked the same question over and over again “Do you miss swimming?”
What a loaded question. It’s something that recent swammers ask each other constantly, waiting for the same response: a smile and a loud “NO!”
To be frank, there hasn’t been a single day that I’ve woken up at 7 am for work and thought “Wow, I really wish I could have woken up at 5:00 am to run stadiums or do 10x400s-boy do I miss that.” If you are a retired swimmer who has these thoughts, you are a rare breed, and I commend you. For the rest of us, we aren’t spending our days missing those long practices and early mornings. I’ve spent quite a lot of time trying to figure out what exactly that means-Did I hate swimming? Should I have quit years ago? Why don’t I miss those practices if everyone always told me that I would!? I’ve come to realize that I simply can’t answer the question of whether or not I miss swimming with a yes or no-it’s far too complicated for that.
When I finished the last race of my life, I was overcome with a rather interesting mix of emotions-disappointment, emotional and physical exhaustion, anger with myself. On top of that, I was ecstatic, nostalgic, and on the verge of standing on the block to scream “FREEDOM” in Braveheart fashion. This strange conglomeration of thoughts and feelings has truly taken me over a year to sort through, and I think I’ve finally done it.
I’m sure that you now expect me to start telling you that upon a year of self reflection and life out in the real world, I’ve started to miss swimming, even the awful 5 am workouts! Not quite. To be completely transparent, I would not start back up on 10 practices a week if given the opportunity. Been there, done that. My life has moved on to the next chapter, and I am very much content with that. Something else has happened, and it’s far more meaningful-I have realized just how much I love swimming. In the time since I finished my career, my love for the sport has only grown-I have figured out what swimming really and truly means to me. Here it is:
- Swimming means being a bridesmaid in your club teammate’s wedding, and celebrating the fact that you never lost each other over the years.
- Swimming means realizing that you remember nothing from your first big national meet, aside from the energy that your team felt when one of your best friends (to this day) unexpectedly made the World Championship Team.
- Swimming means watching a group of kids who started the year with very little knowledge of the hard work that swimming requires begin to fall in love with this terrible, wonderful sport.
- Swimming means texting college teammates the moment something exciting happens to you, because you know they will be celebrating from wherever they are in the world.
- Swimming means realizing that you have exceptional time management skills when compared to colleagues, because you’ve literally never known what it’s like to have free time.
- Swimming means taking pride in your team and where you come from, and continuing to wear your college swimming attire no matter how many remarks you get that “It’s over, let it go”.
- Swimming means realizing how much time, energy, and love your coaches (and parents!) poured into you as an athlete and person.
- Swimming means putting the success of the team before your individual success, because that’s what you will carry with you for the rest of your life.
- Swimming means very little about the times, wins, and endless practices, and a whole lot about the person it shapes you into.
So maybe I’m lying a little when I tell people that I absolutely DO NOT miss swimming. I miss seeing my teammates every day, I miss having abs. I miss the feeling of accomplishment after a brutal practice or a hard fought win with my team. More than any of that, I love the person that I have become, and I truly believe that I have swimming to thank for that. Those teammates and experiences (still waiting on the abs) have become a part of me, and will remain a part of me for the rest of my life. It’s simply impossible to sum something that amazing up in just one word.
Take time to celebrate where you are in your journey with swimming, whether you’re in the middle of those dog days when taper is nowhere in sight, or years past the end of your career. Let these words reassure you that, although maybe you can’t imagine missing such a physically and emotionally demanding sport, you will be so glad that you were a swimmer. We are all shaped by swimming in some pretty fantastic ways…don’t you love that?