Courtesy: Mireille Aleman
Don Corleone had it right (well, not the killing and illegal activities thing) — family is everything. These last few months away from our team have shown me how important our swim family has been — we truly got a new family when we joined Smoky Mountain Aquatic Club. Now my kids have been in some seriously dysfunctional sports families as well, and I am immensely grateful to be writing this from the other side — the side where your swim team has in fact become your extended swim family. So today, let’s chat about how swimming gives us a new kind of family.
“Ohana means family and family means nobody gets left behind….or forgotten” — We know from last week’s blog that we can learn a lot from Disney movies (fun fact though: I don’t even like Disney movies and….I never watched Lilo and Stitch). This quote however, is a great way to start thinking about getting back to the pool and making sure no one is left behind. Many of us have tried to stay in touch through various social media platforms. Our team leadership has certainly made every effort to support the swimmers with weekly communications. But are there families we haven’t heard about this entire time? Have our kids tried to reach out to some of the swimmers they may not always hang out with? It is easy to reach out to those that are our “go-to” friends. But family means no one gets left behind. So maybe this week is the time for us to reach out, call someone we haven’t really seen or heard from, touch base and see how they are doing.
It’s also good to remind our swimmers of this concept of family as they start back these coming weeks. Some of the athletes have worked out daily since the shutdown of the State — others haven’t done a single thing. I would bet that most probably fall somewhere in between and span the gamut. It is even possible that some of the kids didn’t even know how to stay in touch. Getting back in the pool over the next few weeks may prove to be hard for our children. Some will struggle with the physical demands. Some may be disappointed, frustrated or disillusioned. But I would also like to share about those who may feel sad, lonely or isolated. A few years back, before joining our team and becoming part of this amazing family, our kids were uprooted from everything they had known when we moved to Western North Carolina. We joined a team (and the BEST team EVER, might I add) and got involved right away. My swimmer was in great shape and had no issues with the physical demands of the training schedule. But there were struggles. Great struggles — the kind that made him want to quit swimming altogether. Feeling isolated, even in a crowd, is not a feeling only adults experience. I am so grateful for our coaches’ desire to communicate and willingness to be flexible with my struggling swimmer. The fact that I can pick up the phone, text, or send a pigeon (full disclosure — haven’t tried that one — but I know that if I did, they would answer) and just talk honestly with our coaching team is invaluable. Trust me when I tell you that not all coaches are so willing to talk to parents and so open to do what they can to help their swimmers. Yes, some teams are just that — teams — with rules, regulations, guidelines and hierarchies. But some, even with all that, are also families. Things changed for us because we were treated like family, not customers. Let’s make sure our swimmers pay attention to their friends; let’s talk to them about being people who reach out, include and encourage. Let’s use this opportunity to teach them about the family they chose and how to be an active member of that family. Yes, we all have been confined for months and our kids have been cut off from their daily exercise and social interactions. But we can also look at this as an opportunity to grow deeper, more meaningful and stronger relationships with our swim family members. So communicate, embrace, include and open your heart, so no one gets left behind….or forgotten, in our swim family.
“I know all about waiting. For my family. They’ll be back, one day”. In Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens (wait, technically, that’s still Disney, right?), Rey speaks of her longing to see her family again. For us, over these last few long weeks, waiting for word that we could get back to the pool felt like we were Rey waiting for our family. And my friends, WE ARE BACK!!!! See, most people whose kids are involved in sports may not quite understand how much time we, as a swim family, spend with each other. As rewarding as it is, swimming is an extremely demanding sport and it is very time-consuming. In fact, our swimmers may spend more engaged, alert and active time with their team members and their coaches than they do with our own family (now note how I qualified that — let’s face it, those kids may spend time at home, but it doesn’t mean they are always engaged, alert or active when they do!). So it’s no surprise these weeks apart have made all of us feel like we were waiting to be back with our family. I was recently driving back from a park, listening to the radio. Some random celebrity was being interviewed about what they would do first after the Stay-Home order is lifted. Their answer was that they would go visit all of their family members, near and far, because they realized how much they missed them. This resonated with me. First, because, well….celebrities are people too….I guess. But also because that was definitely one of the things our swimmer has been longing for. Getting back to the pool deck, interacting with his friends and his coach, reaching new goals….how we have all missed that! Even the little things like the daily playlist blasting over the speakers poolside (or some coaches’ questionable choices of music genre — wink-wink — you know who you are, coaches!), the whiteboard where the workouts are written and achievements are posted; the moments of celebration; the moments of victory; the moments of rebuke; those teachable moments….they are all part of making our team a family. I remember this last story, before it all stopped. Age group sectionals had been canceled, just moments before warm-ups, and Coach Scott told the swimmers poolside about the heartbreak. At practice the same day, Coach Charlie let all the athletes in attendance know. In addition to the disappointment our younger swimmers felt, there was the matter of the team goal….so close to being reached and yet some 80 seconds short of a new team record. It had been one of our team’s focuses for nearly 8 months. Finish the season strong. Beat our best cumulative time as a team. The kids were mad. Really mad… Then triumph! All swimmers, working together, side by side, stroke after stroke, to make the goal, reach the target, break the record — even if unofficially. They worked all practice, raced their hearts out, in an impromptu, unsanctioned, glorious meet. THAT, my friends, was a true FAMILY MOMENT.
As a family, we also spend time traveling together, serving together and supporting the unit together. There is nothing more rewarding and heartwarming than seeing other parents and team members cheering for your child during a meet. I miss that. I miss seeing kids swim hard, being cheered on by their friends and their friends’ parents. I miss seeing our coaches, interacting with the kids, giving them last minute pointers and post-swim debriefs. I miss celebrating the breakthroughs. That look, exchanged with your swimmer, their coaches and other parents when you know they made the cut! I miss seeing swim friends hugging their teammates and wiping their tears when they miss the mark. When they don’t make the cut. When they get a best time only to find out they were disqualified. These moments are what make us all family. We feel them, as parents and spectators and we bond over our kids’ support of one another, as we support each other. We enjoy them at night, after a hard day, sharing a meal at the local pizzeria, near our hotel. We share them as we volunteer to time or officiate during local and away meets. I miss all of it and though it may still be a little while until we fully get it back, for now we wait. For our family. They’ll be back, one day.
In her book, A Different Woman, author Jane Howard summed it all up. “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” This is really the bottom line here — these last few weeks have been tough no doubt. Only the future will tell what impact this will have on all of us. I am sure some of the repercussions of this pandemic have not yet been felt. I am sure some are hidden. Many of our swim family members are hurting. Physically. Emotionally. Financially. And so, as we all get excited about our kids going back to the pool, let’s remember that we need each other and we need a family. Or a clan. Or a network. Or a tribe. As we all pause to appreciate that old feeling or normalcy — or semi-normalcy anyways — let us grab hold of what our team means to us and to our swimmers. They spend so much time with each other and we, as parents, spend so much time poolside and at meets. Why not expand our reach a little, get to know each other better, start opening our heart to our swim family. Maybe it means packing a few extra snacks and drinks for our kids to share during a meet. Maybe it is serving our team during home meets. Maybe it’s saying thank you to our coaches for pressing on and keeping the team going. A small gesture; a kind word; a phone call; a birthday card. Whatever it is we do to express care, love, and appreciation within our own families, let’s do a little more of that, from here on out with our swim family. Let’s reconnect, celebrate, and come together, not just on deck but outside the pool. Let’s have more barbecues, more fun at the beach or at the lake. Let’s find small ways to reach out and tell others we care. Let’s develop a stronger network, so we can help each other if times like these — when times like these — happen again. We have invested so much time and resources in this sport. Let’s use this reset to make the future more meaningful than the past.
ABOUT Mireille Aleman
Mireille is a graduate of Florida Atlantic University, where she obtained a PhD in Chemistry and Biochemistry. She was an associate professor and breast cancer researcher in south Florida. She also has experience working with college athletes, helping them to balance academics and athletics. Her athlete, Liam, swims with Smoky Mountain Aquatic Club in Asheville, NC. These days, if you don’t find her poolside supporting Liam and SMAC, Mireille is settling into her new role as a student, as she pursues a Master in Public Health with the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She has spent countless hours on deck as a swim mom and volunteer, and is now enjoying sharing some of her thoughts and experiences through the Swim Mom Confidential blog on the SMAC website (https://www.smacswimshop.com/