by Donna Hale
As the mom of a high school junior who has been swimming since she was a little girl, this week we embarked on what will one day lead to the final lap in her amazing journey: transitioning from age group/senior swimming to the NCAA. It is a maddening, amazing, soul wrenching experience of campus tours, meetings with coaches, conversations with student athletes, and late nights talks over what to major in and what career you are suited for upon graduation.
Parents, prepare yourself. I still have a year to go and I already feel the tugs at my heart. Swimming has been such a common thread in my family’s life. I realize more every day that all too soon it will be a memory. Yes there are four years of college meets. But it’s not the same. Your child is speeding into adulthood. And if it’s your baby like it is with me, you’ll want to stop the clock. Letting go is hard. But the race goes on.
The swimming adventure started with mini meets, ribbons and medals, and a thirst for competing that grew stronger with every year. This led to more swimming, more competing, and bigger meets. Eventually there were early morning practices, expected doubles, and workouts that demand the best of you every day. By next year this time our juniors will have completed their last SCY races for their much loved teams and coaches who guided them along the way. College swimming is the final lap. Yes it’s a long one. And maybe even the best one. It’s the best of age group, summer swim, and high school meets all rolled into one.
For most student athletes the decision to swim in college and to compete for four more years are the culmination of a lifelong commitment to a sport that has given much, required much, and beckons them to give a little more. So here are some lessons we have learned this week as we embark on the final lap. We are just getting started so I’m pretty sure the learning will continue. Parents and swimmers, here are some thoughts as you embark.
Stop and smell the chlorine. To reach the collegiate level in any sport is a wonderful achievement. You don’t get there by chance, but by the choices you make every day. Be proud. You’re in the top 3-4 percent of athletes. What an achievement!
You’re making a really important decision. College is there to prepare you for a career and all the milestones that will follow. Choose wisely with your eye on the prize. Of course you want to find the right team and that perfect fit. But most of all focus on the place you feel will prepare you for life. Swimming is the icing. Your college choice is the cake.
Follow your heart. The choice you make is one of your very first adult decisions. After all isn’t it your heart that led you to embrace swimming? Your head can rationalize important decisions. But your heart already knows where you want to go. Your parents, coach and friends are your sounding board. But only you know what your heart says. Trust your heart.
Savor every single moment in your senior year that looms large. It can be easy to be swept away in the excitement. Take time to make memories. Spend an extra five minutes in the locker room with friends. Swim for the pure joy you feel. All too soon you’ll be in new surroundings. Swimming has always centered you. So give it your all. When it’s time for your final race, your last goodbye to those who got you here, don’t leave anything undone and nothing unsaid. Life is a series of endings and beginnings.
Be thankful. As a college bound swimmer you are one of the lucky ones. You have been blessed to be part of an amazing sport. But you are not defined by how you perform in the pool. You’re so much more. Savor the memories. Be grateful. And swim on.
Donna Hale has been a swim mom for 12 years as well as executive of several nonprofit organizations. She volunteers regularly for her daughter Hannah’s USA Team The Potomac Marlins, summer team Burke Station Destroyers, and Lake Braddock Swim and Dive Bruins.