Courtesy: Donna Hale
In the midst of my daughter’s college senior year, I am starting to realize the words she’s been saying since she was four years old won’t suddenly disappear when her college years are over. As she has said. “I am a swimmer. I will always be a swimmer all of my days.” That eager-eyed little girl who loved the little mermaid, at some point fell so deeply in love with this sport it became part of her DNA – a part of who she was. As she and many others face an uncertain senior season, it is vital to hold on to this In their hearts and minds. Swimming is a lifestyle that teaches you so much. Some of the best moments are not between the lane lines. More than ever let’s help them remember this. The fun at practice, locker room talks, bus rides and training trips: These moments define a season.
Wow, she is lucky and so am I. As these moments wane, I wanted to share my lifelong look at what it means to be a student athlete, and a swimming parent. I wanted to share what I have learned from watching her and reflect on how this sport has blessed her. I also invite all of us to celebrate these blessings.
Yes, she is a competitor. But above all, she is a teammate. She is a role model, teacher, student, and confidant to fellow swimmers. Yes, she loves to win. But, competition has taught her so much about pushing the limits, dedication to what she loves ,and to treasure everyday what a blessing it is to be part of an extraordinary team – a team that is home.
She was taught at age 4 that sportsmanship matters. This lesson has never been lost. I never saw her complete any race without congratulating her opponents – win or lose. She has been lucky to swim with some of her generations’ greats. To her, her behavior was the same whether she was in the race with Olympians or summer friends. And this involves thousands of races. This is a lesson she never forgot even when she was not thrilled with her race. She knows that being a good sport is a hallmark of great swimming and amazing athletes. You cannot be truly great without being humble. I watched her comfort and console swimmers around many leagues and during many stages. And yes she even cheered her opponents on. She knew early on that her behavior could inspire or discourage. She always chose inspiration even during her most difficult times.
Yes, as a lifelong athlete, she is not just a survivor, but a thriver. She faced serious illness and injury with grace and grit. She endured injury and chronic illness without ever giving up. And there were tough moments where she had to claw her way back. But claw she did, even helping to build a brand new college team of extraordinary young people. She even dealt with severe bullying and times of darkness when she first started college swimming at a different place.
When she first choose a college she misstepped, but learned a lot, bravely changed course leaving all she knew behind, and found a home that any swimmer would be proud to call their team. And yes, during this journey, she questioned her own body image as so many athletes do. But these moments taught her how strong she was and set her about on a project to help other athletes deal with depression, body image, and nutrition challenges. She i completing a project this spring. Swimming taught her to not only seek the light, but to inspire it in others. She has always done this in quiet moments at practice and in competitions. And now it is becoming her life’s work.
She learned how awesomely beautiful and strong she is. I know her research will help young female athletes. All that happened inspired her to think about what is next along this journey. Swimming helped her find her direction as a student while overcoming a learning disability that she has had since she was young. Yes, she had failures, but she learned to rise up and find the good in each situation. This helped her help others. I’ve watched her seek out others time after time, teammates and competitors, on deck in quiet moments of elation and despair. It inspires me. And I think others. Parents tell me this and it makes my heart sing.
Yes she is swimmer. But she is also part of a community who can and does important things. She has fed the hungry in the community through groups like Food for Others and community food banks and pantries, raised money for crucial social causes like women’s breast cancer, and Wounded Warriors. Being a part of Special Olympics in middle and high school was life changing for her with little fanfare, but all the while making a difference for athletes. Sometimes it was as simple as buying lunch and water for a hungry person. I lost count of how often she did this. These are lessons she learned in swimming. These lessons do not end when she hangs up her goggles.
All of this sportsmanship, service, and compassion was instilled as a young swimmer so long ago. Swimming taught her character counts both in small acts of kindness and choices we make to change our world every day.
She was blessed. I was doubly blessed to be her mom. She is a swimmer, but so much more. So no matter what her senior season brings, she will smile and so will I. Because she is a role model for this sport and an extraordinary human being. What an honor to have spent her life doing what she loves and spreading this love to others. This is a shining definition of winning that will live in her veins even after all the chlorine is gone. Perhaps this year reminds us to appreciate all we have gained more than we mourn what we have lost.
Donna Hale if a lifelong swim mom of Hannah Hale, a D-3 athlete in NCAA and a club, high school, and summer swimmer starting at four years old.