Staying Afloat: The Life of a Swim Mom

Thanks to Michelle Schurman for contributing this piece.

My daughter’s swim team held its annual banquet last weekend. It’s the one night of the year when they ditch the swim suits and get dressed up to celebrate the hard work and achievements of the past season.

Swimming is an amazing sport, and competitive swimming trains true athletes. I’m continually impressed with the discipline, athleticism and mental toughness it takes to be a competitive swimmer.

When I was 13, there’s no way I would have had the dedication to attend year round swim practice 6 days a week, some days it’s twice a day, and some morning practices start as early as 5:30 am!

As retired swimmers will tell you, that’s a lot of hours looking at lines on the bottom of a pool.

Even though it’s an individual sport, the team comaradarie and support they show to one another is really heart-warming. Friends who stay long after their own race is over to cheer or lap count for another swimmer. The hugs they give to one another after a less than stellar swim. Let me tell you, I’ve had more than a few tears in my eyes while watching my daughter and her swimming friends at some pretty critical moments. Moments where I see that her swim team really is her swim “family.”

When I ask my daughter how she manages to drag herself out of bed and to the pool at 5 am without a complaint, she tells me it’s because she knows her friends are there too…feeling just as groggy and sleepy. But, they’re all in it together.

At the expense of sounding like Hillary Clinton…”I’m not a natural swim mom.”

We are probably not the typical swim parents – we didn’t swim in high school or college, and we don’t swim now. But, we’ve both learned a lot over the last few years about how serious AND fun competitive swimming can be.

At the banquet last weekend, a lot of us Swim Moms gave OURSELVES a pat on the back. Whew…we made it through another long and short course season!

Here are a few things I’ve learned (and I’m still learning) as the mother of a competitive swimmer:

1. Swimmers are constantly hungry – especially after practice. There better be snacks in the car or dinner hot and ready when she walks in the door, or else we have one cranky swimmer.

2. Don’t cheat and try fast food – I admit, I’ve done it. Grabbed some drive-thru on the way to pick her up after practice only to be met with shock and disdain. “How could you bring me Chick-Fil-A the day before a meet??” Swimmers are pretty serious about their nutrition, as they should be. Growing swimmers need lots of high quality calories from complex carbohydrates and lean protein, especially leading up to a big meet.

3. Understanding the “taper” – At first, I thought it was a joke. Then, I realized her coaches really meant it – rest is very important. No jumping on the trampoline, no riding her bike and forget about the “just for fun” school track meet. Of course, she tries to take advantage of it – what kid wouldn’t? “Mom, I can’t fold the laundry – I’m tapering!!”

4. You’ll never keep up with the constant stream of wet towels – every day, she is pulling wet towels and clothes out of her swim bag for laundering. I haven’t figured out a way to keep up, so I head to Walmart every spring and stock up on cheap $6 beach towels. Having lots of them almost guarantees she’ll have a fresh one for the next day’s practice. Shhh…don’t tell her…but sometimes I skip the washing and just throw it in the dryer!

5. Invest in a Stadium Chair – these handy seats will save your back while you spend hours sitting in the bleachers at countless swim meets. A lawn chair is also a good idea, but most often you have to set up outside.

6. The cost and fit of a kneeskin – who knew a swimsuit could cost several hundred dollars??? I get it…it’s a “technical” suit and it just might make her faster, but that’s a lot of money for a small amount of material. And, be prepared to help squish your swimmer into one of these suits. They often buy them two sizes too small (the tighter the better) and it could take up to 20 minutes to get it on.

7. Shaving – it’s not just leg hair, it’s the arms too. I laughed when I heard some swimmers asking one another if shaving the hair on their toes would make them go any faster.

8. Find a good carpool – this has been a life saver for me. The moms I have carpooled with over the years have not only become good friends, but they’ve helped our entire family when we’ve had out of town trips and scheduling conflicts with our other kids’ events. Make sure your carpool is RELIABLE, meaning they’re on time and won’t bail out at the last minute, leaving you scrambling.

9. Time matters – Your swimmer will have moments of sadness and extreme frustration when a tenth of a second or hundredth of a second is all that’s keeping her from achieving her goal. She will beat herself up with questions about the dive, the flip turn, just touching the wall a split second sooner. Love her and support her through these moments.

10. Enjoy the victories – even the small ones. Soak in those moments when she’s happy with her performance – she did her absolute best and it was enough. Maybe it was a new personal best, a top ten finish or a high five from a coach who said, “I knew you could do it!”

And finally, I know my post is directed at Swim Moms…but I also know a lot of awesome Swim Dads out there too; ours included. He is, undoubtedly, her biggest fan!

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Michelle Schurman is a swim and dance mom, and when she’s not carpooling or cooking for her athletes, she enjoys freelance writing and blogging at www.michelleschurman.com.

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Craig Zello

Good article! Thanks for the props to the swim dads!

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About Lauren Neidigh

Lauren Neidigh

Lauren Neidigh is a former NCAA swimmer at the University of Arizona and the University of Florida. She got her M.S. in Criminology from Florida State and seems exceptionally confused about which team she should cheer for during the college football season. Lauren is currently working on her M.A. in …

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