An Open Letter to the Young Black Swimmer

by SwimSwam 16

December 08th, 2014 Lifestyle, National, Opinion

Trevor Ziegler, HeadshotTrevor Ziegler is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst where he also swam for the Minutemen. In addition to being well-immersed in the swimming world, Trevor is also a self-proclaimed pop culture aficionado. He spends most of his time brainstorming how he can write about both his favorite bands/tv shows and swimming in one coherent article. 

Dear Young Black Swimmer,

I write this letter to you in the wake of the recent events unfolding in places like Ferguson and New York City. I write this letter because like you, I was also a young black swimmer. Through the sport, I experienced an unfathomable number of successes; not just in the pool but academically, socially and personally. I hope these are things you also get to accomplish during your unfolding swimming career. However, like you, I also experienced the feelings of isolation and loneliness that come with being a young black swimmer.

I write this letter to assure you that, especially in times like these, you are not alone. In a sport where there aren’t a whole lot of others like you, it’s easy to feel isolated. But I assure you, young swimmer, you are not alone. There were times when I felt like others’ expectations were far lower for myself than the other swimmers- as if the mere fact that I was still there was an achievement in itself. There was even a time when I was flat-out told that I would never be able to become a swimmer. I am here to tell you that nobody has the right to try to stifle you from a pursuit that makes you truly happy.

Sometimes, you may feel like you’re infiltrating something you aren’t supposed to be a part of. I’m sure there have also been times you’ve felt like you were some sort of walking punchline, an oddity, an exception to the rule. Other times you may feel akin to something of a novelty to the sport. You will probably even feel as if you are constantly under a microscope with astute observers waiting for you to fail. It is important to remember that you are not, and never will be, any of those things. You will always be a swimmer.

I write this letter to encourage you to not become angry at what you are feeling, even when these emotions seem overwhelming. I understand how it gets and how misunderstood you may feel at times. Contrary to how it seems, this is a useful feeling once you learn to cope with it rather than avoid it. Because unfortunately, young swimmer, this is a feeling that never really goes away. I ask that you harness such emotion and utilize it in a positive way. Use such energy to better yourself in the sport that you love. Prove the naysayers wrong through your achievements, not through anger.

I understand that others in the sport (or even outside of it) may not always be tolerable to the idea of the young black swimmer; some by choice, most unintentional. But I want you to remember that you are, and will always be a swimmer. I ask that you not let external factors discourage you from competing in a sport you are passionate about and may ultimately excel in. Always remember you have just as much right to be there as everybody else, even when it might feel like you don’t belong.

I write this letter because I was also a young black swimmer; never just a swimmer. Though the label may seem frivolous, the implications associated seemed endless. Never give up, young swimmer; that is my advice to you. Never let these overwhelming feelings derail you from the sport you love. Disregard the words and actions of others that discourage you from pursuing something that makes you truly happy. Because after all, you are and will always be a swimmer. And nothing will ever change that.

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Phina Rhinestone
6 years ago

One query here – what is the definition of ‘black ‘ in this article? It probably should be in the opening paragraph.

Phina Rhinestone
Reply to  Phina Rhinestone
6 years ago

There are people with evolutionary dark skin throughout Africa , South Asia , the Indian Ocean , Australia , Indonesia , Papua New Guinea , the Pacific plus the descendants of historic forced or voluntary migration in the Caribbean , South America , USA , Britain , France.

If the target is purely american then state it . It is not a taboo subject , it just requires some boundaries.

Drew Barnes
6 years ago

Awesome insight! Thank you for writing this article at a time when the circumstances of our world dictate that my two young black swimmers needed to hear it.

6 years ago

Coach Z,
Continue living the dream and more power!
From your swim family here in San Antonio, Texas

(Migs and Bea would like to say hi!)