Courtesy: Abby Hark
Even though swimming wasn’t my first love, it is now part of a lasting relationship. My first few seasons on my summer league team built the foundation of what swimming means to me. I knew the basic skills from a young age, but I had no idea swimming could be so much more than for safety. I have learned the joys that can come from the sport of swimming and I gained valuable life skills in the process.
I started swimming on my summer league summer team at 9 years old while I continued to pursue the sport that dominated my time: softball. But summer swim allowed me to be a part of a team rather than just small group swim lessons sprinkled around my other commitments. My team was large in numbers which taught me to work hard alongside my teammates to have more chances to swim. For example, in order to make champs, I had to work hard to be one of the top in my age group for a given event. All summer, excitement seemed to build about champs and I knew I wanted to swim my very best to get there.
Additionally, this was the first place where I was a part of a team with kids of varying ages. At softball, teams were grouped by those close in age to oneself but on this team, I could interact with the older swimmers and learn from them. The crescendo relay is a perfect example of this. It is a chance for everyone from ages 5-18 to bond and work together for a common goal. No matter what age on the spectrum you are, it is meaningful as you get to lead by example or learn from others.
The fun that my summer swim team added into each week made me learn that swimming is enjoyable. Each Friday, we had a practice where we played games that reinforced swimming skills but mainly connected teammates and made them into friends. From this to the ribbons and rubber ducks I received from meets, the summer league and my team made swimming enjoyable at a young age which helped grow my love for the sport.
Between team building “Fun Fridays” and learning how to work hard with people of all ages, being on my summer league team gave me the foundation to realize I wanted to do more with the sport. Later in grade school, I swam during the winter in a program at a local college designed to be the next step up from swim lessons. While I loved these practices and they helped me improve my skills, I was missing the piece of thrill – the romance – that my summer team gave me through meets and the team atmosphere. This prompted me to join a year round USA swimming club in 7th grade and make a bigger commitment to the sport. In each year leading up until now, I have made larger commitments to swimming including with the decision to stop playing softball at the end of 10th grade and focus solely on swimming.
This decision was not an easy one, because as I said, softball was my first love in the sports world. In part, my choice was influenced by a challenging time in the COVID-19 pandemic where swimming was simply a safer sport for me to go to as I worked hard to protect my dad who has an autoimmune disease. On the other hand, I had realized that my love affair with softball had run its course and that it was time to hang up my cleats, as it was hard to balance being a two-sport athlete and a committed high school student. I was finding more joy and excitement from the pool and I was thrilled to see my improvement the more time I put into the sport. Although, this transition didn’t even mark the “in love” part of my relationship with swimming; it was just the tip of the “falling”. The deeper relationship would come later, during my junior and senior years of high school, when I was able to commit to 9 practices a week and give my all for my high school and club swim teams. This commitment improved my times but also developed my ability to be a leader in and out of the pool for my teammates.
During my sports transitional period was also the time that the college search was in full swing. I was looking to prioritize academics, and playing sports in college wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. If you had asked me growing up if I would play a sport in college, it would 100% have been softball or nothing at all. Yet, as I transitioned to being a one-sport athlete – a swimmer – I realized I wasn’t quite ready to be done in the pool yet.
First, I found a school that I loved with both architecture and education majors. I have always had an interest in these two subjects. One of my two potential majors was also fueled by the opportunity I’ve had from the summer league. Beginning the summer after my freshman year in high school, I was given the chance to be an assistant swim coach for my team. I quickly learned more about how to teach the sport to others and facilitate a love for swimming in the youngest kids. This work reinforced that I enjoy working with children and I loved teaching them how to swim through lessons and coaching. I will never forget the first time I was pushed in the pool as a coach after a team win at home. The look on the kids’ faces before they pushed me in or that of the tired smile of a swimmer who just completed their first 25 free said it all: I meant something to them and my encouragement had made a difference.
At the college I was interested in, I noticed they had a swim team that appeared to be filled with swimmers around my level. I reached out to the coach and now here I am, about to be an incoming freshman at a college in New York state and an NCAA swimmer. I have the opportunity to continue to be a part of a team and work with my teammates to accomplish goals. Swimming allowed me the chance to be a college athlete and the summer league is where my passion for swimming sparked. Without my 10 summers as a part of my summer league team, I would not be able to continue something I love so much or have the opportunities that my future holds for me today.
Abby Hark is from Emmaus, PA and is an incoming first year student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY.