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This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Connor Simpkins, a 7th-grade swimmer for the Suburban Seahawks Club in Pennsylvania.
I knew before my hands hit the wall. I knew from the power I got off my start and the way I was gliding across the water, like soaring instead of swimming. I knew from the distance I got with each stroke and the way I never ran out of breath. I knew before I even turned my head to look at the board that I had done it. I had finally made a Zones cut for my weakest and most challenging event. And I knew, just a week later, as I lay on the soaking wet ground having just slipped and fallen, my arm swelling and misshapen, pain shooting up into my shoulder, that my swim season was over. I would not be swimming at that Zones meet.
What I didn’t know was that breaking two bones in my arm, missing the first five weeks of my fall swim season, spending much of my fall season feeling behind but working hard to get myself back to where I wanted to be would prepare me for dealing with all the ways this coronavirus outbreak has impacted my swim team and my swim season.
Here are a few things I learned after breaking my arm that are helping me now…
1. The Disappointment is Real: A lot of people tried to make me feel better by saying “it could have been worse” or “lots of kids break something, no big deal.” And they are right. But breaking my arm a week before a meet I had been working towards all season was a big deal. It was a huge disappointment for me. Pretending it was nothing didn’t help me. I had to let myself be disappointed.
Now, because of coronavirus, I missed another end of season meet, and my swim team has shut down. I was finally feeling like my swimming was strong again and I was counting on that meet to end my season with some strong time drops. Just like with my broken arm, the disappointment of all of this is real. And I’m not even a high school swimmer yet, I can’t imagine the disappointment for swimmers at the end of high school or college. I don’t know about other swimmers, but for me, acknowledging a loss to myself is the first step in moving past it.
2. Find a Distraction: After I got home from the hospital my teammates started showing up at my house. We hung out, played Xbox, watched tv. We ate the candy and chocolate chip cookies they brought me. They distracted me. It showed me that being on a team is more than just the swimming.
This coronavirus outbreak may stop us from hanging out at practice or going to each other’s houses, but we are still having fun. Facetime and group chats, social media, it is all good distraction. It is not the same as swim practice, but it is better than not “seeing” my friends at all and any distraction helps.
3. Go to meet anyway: Even though I broke my arm and couldn’t swim, I went to the Zones meet anyway. I went to cheer on my friends. We had worked all season to go to this meet together and I didn’t want to miss it. Going was the best decision I made. Usually, I’m distracted by my own events. I don’t get to just sit back and watch. Going to a swim meet but not swimming reminded me that I like to watch swimming too. I like how swimmers all race differently; some are hyper balls of energy; some are quiet, intense, focused. I like when the smallest swimmer in a heat wins because his technique is better than everyone else. And I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I never realized all the things my coach does at a meet, it reminded me to start saying thanks more often.
I know we can’t go to meets right now. But the lesson I learned from going to that meet is that you can’t give up. Don’t just mope. Doing something is always better than doing nothing.
4. It’s Going to Be Hard to Get Back in the Pool: The whole time I was in my cast I couldn’t wait to get back in the pool. But when I was finally allowed back, it felt weird. I could only do kick sets, so it was boring. I still wasn’t with my friends; I didn’t feel like part of the team. In a lot of ways, it felt worse. Then, when I got back with my team I felt behind, slower, like it was all harder. My first few meets I didn’t swim as well as I wanted. But that only made me more determined. And all my work was about to pay off: I was totally ready for my last meet of the season, before coronavirus cancelled it.
With the coronavirus outbreak, we don’t know when we are getting back to the pool. But if breaking my arm taught me anything it is that we can all survive not being in the pool for a while and it will be totally worth it once we are back.
Connor is a 7th grader living in Pennsylvania and swims for the Suburban Seahawks Club in Newtown Square, PA. In addition to swimming, he likes to play the guitar and hang out with his friends.