By Donna Hale
Dear Swimmer Girl:
An Open Letter to my College Bound Athlete
A few days back I sat with your dad and watched you sign “the letter,” officially committing to be a college swimmer, teammate and student. I am sure the emotions that soared through my veins were experienced by thousands of parents last week and will be replayed again in April. I realized that the little girl who struggled to learn a great start was now gone. Before me sat a poised, determined, and courageous young women who was realizing her lifelong dream. You were positively beaming with excitement. To say I am proud is an understatement. But you’d probably be shocked at the reasons why because they have nothing to do with best times or medals and ribbons. For us, as parents, it was always about more than winning. You, like so many of your fellow swimmers, are a special group for what you sacrificed to get here. Yes there are a few swimmers with that rare talent that sets you up high above everyone. But so many others got to this place by working hard for many years to reach a milestone. Here is why you are special.
You have courage. It is awe-inspiring courage like I have never seen. You fought through injury, illness, and setbacks but never ever gave up. Up until 11 pm at a high school meet and in the water at 5 am the next morning. It would have been way easier to quit and hang with friends. But you charged on and on – sometimes against a rough and changing tide.
You understand family and team have a meaning so powerful that it alters the course of your life. If you ask any swimmer from almost any level of the sport what they love the most about swim you will get the same answer. Friendship. I have watched you stand behind your friends and them behind you. Thank you for including me in this bond that you can only understand if you share it. Swimmers (and their parents) are family. Hours in crowded pools. Cars that smell like wet towels. From what I’ve heard the best is ahead as you become a college teammate with shared successes, failures and memories expanding your family that spans the years and soon the miles.
You are tenacious. One thing parents of dedicated athletes clearly see is that the journey to your dream is exhilarating. It is heartbreaking. It is raw and unedited many days. But it molded you into the person you’ve become. I will miss the close up view of all you give to what you love. But it’s your time to branch into the world. Thanks for letting me come along for the ride.
You are passionate. You fell in love with swimming. I don’t know why. But it has been a love affair like no other. This ability to have a dream and chase it with your whole heart will serve you well in college and in life. Thanks for teaching me what it looks like to feel such a powerful connection and to act on it every single day. I know it is rare.
You are a champion. In swimming we hear a lot about race day successes and achievements. But what I remember is your reaction to loss and failure. The experience. The time a fellow flyer out touched you by a millisecond in the 50 fly. Weeks later in another match you soared from behind to reclaim victory. Your sheer determination the first time you swam the mile not knowing if you could do it. And years later watching you nail it in a champs meet, probably your sixth time ever swimming it. Swimming the worst race of your life one night. One you were supposed to win. Then following it the next morning with one of the best races you’ve swam in an event you’re not known for. The hallmark of a champion is the ability to get back in again and again. Thanks for the poolside seat to this sheer will and determination.
Pretty soon there will be no more practices to attend. There will only be a few college meets a year that I can manage to make. My front row seat to watching you grow will be reduced to reading stats on college swimming, seeing a few videos, and receiving a few texts between races. You will be soaring into the world at a rapid pace without me. As I watched you sign last week, I could already feel you slipping away. It is as it should be. I will savor these last few months with all my heart and be grateful every day to the coaches, teammates and fellow swim parents who made this possible. Swim on!
Donna Hale has been a swim mom for 12 years as well as executive of several nonprofit organizations. She volunteers regularly for her daughter Hannah’s USA Team The Potomac Marlins, summer team Burke Station Destroyers, and Lake Braddock Swim and Dive Bruins.