With the world shutting down, we’re reaching into our archives and pulling some of our favorite stories from the SwimSwam print edition to share online. If you’d like to read more of this kind of story, you can subscribe to get a print (and digital) version of SwimSwam Magazine here. This story was originally published in the 2017 Year In Review edition of SwimSwam Magazine.
There’s the shoulders. Going partially nose-blind from chlorine. And the soggy towels — oh, the soggy towels.
The sport of swimming gives and takes in so many ways, but the biggest thing in the “gives” column is the relationships we accumulate in the water.
Records will come and go, soreness fades, and those awesome swimmer abs may slowly disappear, but the relationships are for life.
From your teammates to the water where you hone your craft, here are some of the relationships you develop over a lifetime in the pool:
- Your coach. Your relationship with your coach will yo-yo during your swim career. There will be times where it boils — when you didn’t hold up your part of your commitment to the team or felt that they weren’t giving your swimming the attention it deserved. There were times they beamed with pride at a job well done and fought back tears at the sight of what you’d become. There were bumps and bruises, wins and defeats, but by the end of it you had both grown into slightly different people because of each other. You learned a lot from your relationship with your coach, and they even learned a little from you.
- Pain and discomfort. Frustration. Anger. Helplessness. You know those feelings well in the immediate aftermath of a poor race. You experience them on more than one occasion, in fact. Learning the pain of failure — and, more importantly, learning to accept and redirect the pain of disappointment — is a part of your swimming journey. The pain isn’t just emotional; there is the physical agony that comes with pushing yourself to the limit (and beyond) in training. You learn to accept pain and the satisfaction that comes with the agony of working hard.
- Your teammates. These are the swimships you treasure the longest. You went through it all together: the long coach-bus rides, the six-day championship meets, the disqualifications and injuries, the best times and last-place finishes. In the highs and the lows, you rode the roller coaster of a swimmer’s life together and emerged with an even tighter bond. Once swimming ends, you will lose touch with some of these people, and others will follow you into “civilian” life.
- That special someone. We all have at least one swimmer crush during our swim careers. You remember it well. You started working on your off stroke more often because it was their best stroke. You were the first to congratulate them on a great race, the first to offer a shoulder after a disappointing performance. Away swim meets doubled as dates, and the time before practice and between sets was when you got to know each other. Whether or not things lasted after your time in the pool ended, it’s impossible to forget your first chlorinated crush.
- The competition. Each of us experiences a series of nemeses over the years. Sometimes they swim in our lane. Sometimes they live across town, and other times you see them only in the summers at championship meets. Whether or not they were in the same lane as you, the thought of them pushed you to swim a little harder and faster in practice. On those early mornings when the sky was still black and the wind nipped at your ankles as you walked into the pool, the thought of retreating to your bed was arrested by the thought that the competition was having the same moment somewhere.
When you walked out onto the pool deck for a meet and picked up a copy of the heat sheets, their name was the first you looked for. And even though you knew better, you kept an eye out for them during warm-ups and before the big race.
While little more than a breathless “Good race” over the lane rope may have been said, there’s no doubt your competition played a big role in your swimming career. They pushed you. They motivated you. They brought out the best in you.
- The water. Your relationship with the water was the one that perhaps brought you the greatest joy and consternation. After all, when things were swell between you, it was great. Really great. You sailed across the water effortlessly as one with the pool. But when the water felt slow and lethargic, your stroke thickened and slowed to a crawl — the water was your unrelenting adversary.
Along the way, the silence of the water provided a welcome distraction from the stresses of life. The water and the black line are a form of meditation, giving you calm, silence, and moments of quiet reflection. Long after you hang up your racing suit, the water will still be there — waiting, quietly, without judgment.
Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national-level swimmer and author of an “elite mental training skills” workbook for swimmers. You can learn more about “Conquer the Pool: The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide to a High-Performance Mindset” at www.conquerthepool.com.