Dear swimmer with a broken heart,
I see your pain. It is written all over your body. You can try and hide it but we all know when you step foot on the pool deck something is wrong. No matter how hard you try and hide something from your team and those around you, people can see. They see and feel your pain because they care, whether you believe it or not. At the age of 22, my 8-year relationship and engagement ended. Devastation was written all over my face; it followed me to the classroom and to the pool, it caused me to withdraw from my friends, to stop eating, and to eventually lose 10 pounds in just 6 days. I was spiraling toward rock bottom.
Whatever the reason to a relationship ending, whether it be because of cheating, someone else, or simply just a loss of chemistry, there is still pain. My heart and body ached so bad, I was so sick to my stomach all day, every day. Now imagine trying to work out 5 hours a day with no energy, no fuel, no muscle, no drive, no ambition, and exhaustion. In that time, I felt like I lost everything. I felt like I had nothing. I lost someone I thought I would spend forever with and in the blink of an eye those plans were no more. I blamed myself for the end of what I thought was going to be happily ever after.
Some people tell you to drop the emotion and the pain. They say not to bring it to the pool but we all know that is next to impossible. Swimming is filled with emotion. It’s what drives you to finish the “hardest practice of your life”, it’s what drives you to tears at the end of a race when you see the time you’ve been working so hard for, for so long. Being broken from a relationship is okay, but it’s what you do with that emotion that can either excel you or diminish you. In the beginning, it was consuming me. It was destroying me. I defined myself by him rather than defining myself as the strong, confident swimmer and woman I truly am. Don’t get me wrong it will take you awhile to get to a point to turn that emotion into something related to swimming but you will get there with the help of your team, coaches, psychologist, and loved ones.
How did I make it through? Well, in all honesty, to this day I still haven’t. I still have bad days, where my heart aches and my drive to move on is low, but what I learned quickly was that my team was there for me unconditionally. At first I felt like I was bringing unnecessary drama into my team’s life, wishing they would never have to feel the pain I was feeling. I simply did not want to burden them. However, even through so much pain, my team was there for me in ways I can’t even describe. They let me cry into their arms, and sometimes they cried with me, without saying a word because they knew it’s what I needed. They made sure I was never alone, whether it was just watching t.v with me or rotating sleepovers with me. They got me to eat even, if it was something small like an Oreo (who could pass up an Oreo?). Eventually your teammates will get you to smile and laugh again. I still have the perfect image in my head of the first time I smiled since the breakup. It was three weeks after and I was at practice. A few of the girls were goofing off as I was watching from afar and I caught myself smiling. It was an amazing moment for me: in that exact moment, I realized I would be okay someday and it would be because of them. I had grown closer to my team more than I thought possible; I had let them in, and they gave me the world. Your team will be there for you in ways you could never imagine, but you can’t be afraid to express your true pain. Ask yourself this: if you knew someone on your team was struggling as bad as you were would you not want to be there for them? You would and so do they! Lean on your team, it’s how you get through rough patches, it’s how you will get through heartbreak.
Now, can I honestly say I am 100%’ no, I cannot. But, what I can say is that I am ten times better than what I was three months ago, two months ago, and even a month ago because of my team. And the most beautiful part of it all is that another month from now I know I will be even better. Give yourself time to heal. When people know you’re hurting, and I mean truly hurting, the last thing that will be on their mind is how fast you’re swimming. Even coaches. My coaches helped me through this by not even thinking about swimming. We focused on me and solely me: something I had not done in more than 8 years. They encouraged me to have fun with my friends, stay busy, and continue to do the things I love. The devastation began to subside, and moving on became more natural.
Finally, as cliché as it may sound, use swimming as a getaway. Obviously, in the beginning, the pool may seem like the last place you want to be, but with time you’ll realize it’s your getaway. You’ll heal and you’ll know your own progress. Watch yourself slowly get back to the point you were at before the day you thought your world changed for the worse. Your times will slowly start to come back. Your motivation to practice and train hard will come back. With time, everything will come back. Remember the emotion I was talking about? I dedicated the love I had felt for someone else, to the water instead. You will fall back in love with swimming, I promise. Put all your time, energy, and effort into swimming and into your team. As a senior in college, that is exactly what I am doing! Rather than jumping into another relationship or staying down all my emotion is put into this crazy sport I love so much.
The biggest take away I want you to get from this is that it’s okay to not be okay. But in the time that you’re not okay, lean on your team and lean on your sport. You are not a burden, and the relationships you form through times like these creates an unbreakable bond that you will cherish forever. I am so incredibly grateful for the team that I have. They are my family and I now know that I can go to them for anything and everything and that they will be my cheerleaders in and out of the pool. You will be okay and swimming will guide you down the path of love and happiness yet again. All you must do is lean on it.
A swimmer with a not so broken heart
This article was contributed by Indiana Swimmer Delaney Bernard.