SwimSwam welcomes reader submissions about all topics aquatic, and if it’s well-written and well-thought, we might just post it under our “Shouts from the Stands” series. We don’t necessarily endorse the content of the Shouts from the Stands posts, and the opinions remain those of their authors. If you have thoughts to share, please send [email protected]
This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Lauren Clark, a high school sophomore who swims with the Rockville Montgomery Swim Club in Maryland.
In the sport of swimming, we are instructed to keep our heads down, to keep swimming, and to push through. So much of success and failure is based on numbers. Technique can change, you can be able to do that one 50 with no breaths, but all anyone sees on paper is the seconds it took you. Everything is measured by numbers. The number of strokes taken, seconds gained or dropped, and the length swam. Although repetitive, numbers are secure. They’re “safe.” Numbers stay the same, no matter what is going on around you.
Eventually, as I began to grow up and things began to change rapidly, it felt like I had no control on what was happening in my life. I was losing friends, I was getting my heart broken, and my obsessive personality began to grow. As it felt like everything in my life was unstable, I turned to numbers.
The measuring of my success through numbers in swimming transformed into measuring the number of calories in the food I had eaten. The weight of my food. Measuring my waistline. Keeping a daily log of my weight. I thought that if I could get to a specific number, everything would finally be okay.
But just like in swimming, I wanted to do better. I wanted to drop more. As the pounds on the scale disappeared, the more obsessed I became until it was all I could think about.
I thought I had control in my life. I thought living my life by the numbers made me in charge. But that was far from what was accurate.
It was like I was surrounded by an acidic, cold, fog all the time. The acid of the fog eating away at my hair, my bones, my energy, and my muscles. Constantly shivering.
Jumping into a cold pool every morning became such a burden, but I had to do it. I had to burn the calories. Because if I didn’t burn the calories, it felt like everything would spin out of control and crash. Crash and burn.
Every other week, I’d crash and burn.
The sweet stench and taste of the honey left me wanting more, and more. Even when I wanted to stop. Even when I was lying in the bathtub, sobbing, I still wanted more. Even after I was so full to the point I felt like I was going to explode… I wanted more.
All the foods that made my throat swell with fear, I’d consume in gigantic amounts all at once. Eat without tasting. For just a moment, I’d forget everything. But when the ecstasy wore off, I’d go to bed punching my pillow, crying and cursing. It felt like my world was collapsing.
My world of numbers.
I didn’t care that my swimming was suffering tremendously, or that I had no friends at school. I was numb. All that mattered was the number on the scale getting lower. All that mattered was that my thighs were at least 5 inches apart. All that mattered was that I could see my whole rib cage. I didn’t care that I had lost myself, the only thing I cared about was how thin I could get.
As my heart beat lowered to 40 beats per minute,
As I was passing out in my own shower before school,
As my once insanely thick eyebrows were almost gone,
As I was constantly getting bruises,
As I was eating over 7000 calories in one sitting,
As food was mysteriously disappearing,
As I was bent over the toilet sobbing because I couldn’t get myself to throw up,
I didn’t think I had a problem.
“Do you even care anymore?” I was asked after a bad race, and only doing a 50 cool down.
The truth was, I really didn’t. I was so numb, that I just wanted everything to end. I wanted to stop treading the ice cold water I was in, and just sink. I only told my former coach, my second mom, because I was afraid that she was upset at me.
What followed was almost 2 years of remembering how to eat, months of extreme hunger, and months of hatred over my body. But, man, was that storm worth the hassle.
If you were to ask me if numbers matter, I’d say no.
All that matters is that in swimming you try your best, and that you’re happy. That you enjoy what you do.
Because I once thought the final result that everyone saw was all that mattered, but in reality that is the smallest piece in the puzzle. The puzzle is getting there. If you don’t enjoy getting there, why try solving the puzzle?
Lauren Clark, also commonly known as Clarkie, is currently in her sophomore year of high school, and “probably my 10th year of competitive swimming”.
“I REALLY wanted to be a mermaid when I was younger. I swam for RMSC for a bit, then NCAP for 8 years of my life, and now once again I’ve moved back to RMSC. I love to read, paint my nails, try to learn French, and the obviously given, swim. In the future, I’m not exactly sure where I want to go to college, but I’d love to become either a forensic pathologist or an entrepreneur. Also, oatmeal is the best food.”