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This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Bethany Forster, a state swimmer for Swimland Swim Club in Melbourne, Australia.
My season ended the same way as so many other swimmers in the world. We were a month out from the qualifying deadline for nationals and my brother and I had three weeks to get his 200 fly and my 50 free under the qualifying time. I walked out of the change rooms after training and as I joined the group that was standing in the foyer talking, my mum told me that nationals had been cancelled. Like so many others, I was frustrated, I was angry and I felt as though my season had been a waste. My thoughts went from there’s no point training or racing at the qualifying meet, to at least if I make the time I know I can do it next year.
The qualifying meet was cancelled, training was stopped and schools closed. There’s no doubt that that was my lowest point while in the pandemic. I listened to “Welcome to My Life” and “I’m Just a Kid” by Simple Plan on repeat. I felt that it just wasn’t meant to be, that no matter how badly I wanted to be successful there would be something to stop me. Last year it was a dislocated finger, this year a worldwide pandemic.
Somewhere over the next few days, I realized that there was an opportunity to be better. Those with pools would have the biggest advantage but those of us without were all on a level playing field and the harder I worked, the better position I would be in when we got back to the pool.
After three months of lockdown, restrictions began to ease and beaches opened up. I got a wetsuit, my brother made sure his wetsuit fit and we went to the beach with a couple of our teammates four times a week (following all guidelines of course). We swam to the pole and back which equalled about 3km. We got up close to stingrays, dolphins and fish. There were times it was frustrating; the water was choppy and cold, we wanted to get back into the pool but I knew that there were people that wouldn’t or couldn’t do what we were doing. How many people are going to swim in the ocean in the middle of winter?
As a return to pools drew closer, I decided that I would come back a better swimmer than I had been before the pandemic. I set a goal to do six fly kicks off every wall and not breathe on the first stroke especially after a turn. Pools opened and my brother and I were there any time we could be.
There were a few things that surprised me when we went back to training in a pool. The first was that I was looking forward to training. I’d enjoyed training most of the time but it was part of my routine, a necessary evil, I had to train to go fast. In 10 years I’d never had a break from swimming longer than two weeks, even when I dislocated my finger I was back in the water the next day. The pandemic gave me a lot of time to think and it gave me a chance to reassess my swimming. I’d felt what it would be like without swimming and I realised just how much I loved it, not just racing but training. We’ve just been locked back down again so it’s back to the beaches but training became and continues to be the highlight of my day.
The other thing that surprised me was how focused I was. I made sure I was doing the basic things I said I’d work on, fly kicks and not breathing on the first stroke off the turn, making sure my head position was right and I wasn’t “posing for an Instagram” as my coach always described it. Because every set was now tech focus or stroke count, I was able to focus on the things that needed fixing without worrying about making pace times.
I was then surprised that underwater work off the turns was actually getting easier to do. I wasn’t coming out of the turns dying for air as much as before and I didn’t have to slow down. The last thing that surprised me was how positive my attitude at training was. I have always had a short and intense temper and it came out in training a fair few times. It’s still early days yet but so far there hasn’t been a set I haven’t been happy to do. Club training hasn’t gone back so our coach has been sending us sets to do and we were self-training so I’ll have to wait until we’re back training properly to see how my new-found positive training attitude holds up.
At the beginning of all of this, I never would have expected something good could come out of it but my ruined season just might not be so ruined. None of this is over and we won’t know the true impact of this pandemic on our swimming until we’re back training and racing properly but I think as a result of this pandemic I’ll be a better swimmer than I ever was, when we do finally get back.
Bethany Forster swims for Swimland Swim Club in Melbourne, Australia and has been with them since she started competing 10 years ago, at 8 years old. Swimming at the Olympics has been her dream since she was 5. She graduated high school last year and is now studying a Bachelor of Film, Television and Animation. She spends a lot of her free time bingeing TV shows and movies. An avid sports fan, she also enjoys Australian Football, Ultimate Frisbee, Skateboarding, Gymnastics and Soccer.