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 Jayson Iara, a transgender student at Foothill College in Los Altos, California.
Sometimes holding on does more damage than letting go. This life lesson is something that I am just starting to come to terms with, and as with most of the life lessons that I have swallowed, swimming was what taught it to me.
Throughout most of my childhood, my father was traveling in search of job opportunities and my mom was working a 9 to 5 to support my family. During this time, I had a nanny who would drive my sister and me from one extracurricular activity to another. I had the opportunity of trying out a number of sports before finally settling down to focus on swimming. I enjoyed my time learning the basics of the four strokes during swim classes and it wasn’t long before I tried out for my first swim team. I was doing great in the beginning. I liked my coach and my teammates and enjoyed racing. It wasn’t until I reached a more advanced level that things started to change. I crossed paths with a coach who had a temper, engaged in favoritism, and was verbally and emotionally abusive.
As someone who grew up being a perfectionist and a people pleaser, I wanted to keep everyone happy through my success. This is why when the coach ignored me sometimes and humiliated me other times, I went out of my way to make sure that I wouldn’t do something that would let that happen again. My heart was walking on eggshells and I was scared and as most victims do, I blamed myself. Practices were pushing me, but not in a healthy way. I pretended that I was sick. I said I had too much homework, whatever I could throw in to not face another day of failure at the pool. A few months of this went by and I was on the brink of quitting but I couldn’t because deep down I still loved swimming and wanted to please everyone and myself through being successful.
The coach that I was with resigned and the team was starting to fall apart so I went to go swim for someone else. Things were better there, but it was too late. The damage had been done. After being on my second swim team for less than a year, I was immediately checked into treatment and for the next 4-5 years, I was mostly away from the pool and from any chance of having athletic success. I did whatever I could to stay an active member of the swimming world, such as teaching swim classes to little kids.
When my treatment program became less intensive, I tried to return to competition but I couldn’t. Physically I was swimming just fine, but mentally I was drawn back to that 12-year-old me who just wanted to escape it all. I am 21 now and a part of my brain is still stuck in the past. For years I tried to deny it and banged my head against the wall of competitive swimming. It wasn’t until I took up a job as a competitive swim coach that I realized it was time to let go. I left that initial week of job training on the 3rd day because I again was drawn back into my PTSD around the pool and a day after I resigned an Albert Einstein quote floated into my vision. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. With tears in my eyes, I let out a wavering sigh and finally gave it a rest. I continue to stay active by going for runs every other day, and maybe one day when time has healed some of my wounds, I will be able to return to the water differently. The best way I know how to stay connected to the sport is by sharing my story and increasing awareness about these types of issues, in hopes that I can prevent one more swimmer from taking one last look at the pool.
Jayson Iara is a 21-year-old transgender student at Foothill College in Los Altos, California. His primary focus while in school has been on taking a deeper dive into Sports Psychology. Jayson aspires to use the knowledge from his studies and his experiences to help other athletes find joy and fulfillment in sports and in life.