I never thought the day would actually come where I was done swimming forever. I had been working so hard at something I loved for twelve long, stressful, exhausting, fun, and exciting years. Yes, swimming was all of these things for me.
I started swimming in my backyard when I was six years old. This hobby of mine then spiraled into the love of my life. I joined a club team when I was eight and things really took off from there. I was practicing three to four times a week for two hours at a time. I would come home exhausted, and hungry. Very hungry. I began to move up the levels on my team, practicing five days a week for about three hours every night. At this point, I was so invested in it that I could not imagine my life without it. I finally got to high school and was on the best team with some of the best people. It wasn’t even just about the swimming, the relationships I made throughout this sport will live with me for the rest of my life. We won our conference three out of the four years of my high school career which is something we take great pride in at my high school. It was so fun to beat our rivals and cheer on team mates for the entire meet. Time went on and I was still swimming, year round, constantly. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to continue into college and do what I Ioved for just a little longer. But then everything changed…
I had been having pain in my knee since I was 12 and didn’t think anything of it. It would click and pop but I just thought it was a normal thing because I was growing. This pain then became worse and worse to the point that I could not even get through 20 minutes of practice before my knee would swell up to the size of a softball. I finally went to the doctor and learned that I had to have surgery. I was devastated. This surgery took me out of competition for my entire sophomore season. I could only watch from the pool deck as my teammates competed. This was the moment that I knew I wanted to swim for as long as I could. I did everything possible to get back in the pool as fast as I could, and it paid off. I swam my entire junior year season without any problems, but was not getting back to the competitive times that I had before. I was determined to swim best times and receive college offers my senior season. But, none of this happened because my knee injury returned. I finished my season only to have my knee pop out of place during the last race of what would be my swimming career. I kept swimming through the pain because I could not stop. I had to get a best time. I had to prove everyone wrong. Once I got to the wall I looked up to the scoreboard and emotions flooded into my body. I found myself crying, not only because I was in tremendous pain because of my knee, I was crying because I did not swim a best time-that was when I realized that I was done for good.
Two years later, I look back and reflect on what it was like to be a swimmer. From when I started, I knew it was something that I wanted to do for as long as I could. I realize now that I took for granted the team bonding activities, the taper practices, the relationship I had with coaches, and most of all, how I looked at the sport. If you ask any swimmer, they will tell you they have a love hate relationship for the sport. One minute you want to quit and never step foot in a pool again and the next minute you are rearing to step up onto the blocks and swim another race. Swimming taught me to never take anything for granted. I made so many friendships throughout my 12 years of swimming and I cherish those friendships every day. I look back and remember the awful practices I endured. At the time, I thought to myself, why am I even doing this? Why am I putting my body through this awful workout that is only going to leave my arms and legs dead for the rest of the week? I realize now that it taught me to push myself to limits that I thought I could never reach. Many times I would look at the set on the white board and write myself off before I even started. But then coaches and teammates would push me through it and I would finish the set. I proved to myself and many others that I could do it. Swimming also taught me that you are your own biggest competitor. I was never the fastest on the team but I was always willing to race people faster than me. Often times, when I first started swimming, I would get down on myself during practice when I would get last in my heat or get lapped by someone way faster than me.
Looking back at it now, I realize that without these experiences, I never would have grown as a person or a competitor. It’s just you against the clock in swimming and the clock never does you any favors. Your biggest competitor is yourself, only you can beat you. Remembering these things like this today-many years later- makes me wish I would have known this during my swimming career. The sport of swimming teaches you so many things abut yourself that you would have never known without it.
As I reflect on the twelve years of swimming that I did have, I think about all of the awful sets I did but I also think about all of the great memories I made. I think about all the times I would laugh at practice in between sets, I think about joking with my coaches and teammates about how bad I was at breaststroke, I think about all of the goals I set for myself and how I achieved them, and most of all, I think about how much swimming meant to me. Many people don’t understand that swimming can have a lasting affect on your life. I see old teammates breaking school records, swimming personal bests, and achieving their goals and wish that I could just go back a few years to when that was me. I miss everything about the sport, even the 100×100’s set we did every winter break or the timed 2000 swim. The sport of swimming is something that you don’t realize how much you love until it’s gone forever.
If you are a current swimmer and reading this, keep swimming for as long as you can. Yes, swimming can be very hard and exhausting, but those practices make you not only a better swimmer, but a better person. When it’s finally time to hang up your chorine-stained swim bag and your favorite pair of goggles, you’ll wish you could get it all back, just like I do every day. You are still swimming for a reason; don’t quit on something you have an undeniable love for. Sure, nobody enjoys waking up at 5:30 AM to go to practice and consequently smell like chlorine for the rest of the day, but I would take it back in a heart beat. Thank you, swimming. You taught me so many things that I will use and cherish for the rest of my life. I wish I could have stuck with it longer but there are many other kids right now that are going to fall in love with you just like I did.
My name is Hannah Zeltman and I am currently a sophomore studying middle childhood education at Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, Ohio. Overall, I swam for 12 years starting at the age of six. I swam for the Greater Columbus Swim Team of Ohio for eight years until I swam on my high school team at Gahanna Lincoln High School for for years.