by Donna Hale
As a regular to this blog most of you know my writing as uplifting and as a celebration of this amazing sport. Swimming is a lifestyle and I’ve seen just about everything on and off the pool deck.
But today I want to draw attention to one of the often invisible aspects that seeps it’s way into our sport and into the lives of our teenagers. No one really wants to talk about. Though a few brave athletes on our current Olympic team have publicly spoke of their own battles too many suffer in the locker rooms, cry when no one can see the tears on their water drenched faces, and feel a sense of isolation and fear that can’t be explained.
Depression: the silent pain and feeling of hopelessness. It not only impacts swimmers but many other people as well. Sometimes it is even frowned upon by tough coaches who believe every athlete should suck it up and live with the pain. This has long been an unspoken mantra of elite sports. You need mental toughness. The problem is people confuse depression with mental toughness. They are not and never will be the same thing. So what can we do to bring this issue more out in the open and even offer resources for those who need help? While it would be great for USA Swimming to develop and run programs , there are steps everyone involved in our sport can take starting today.
Don’t assume you know what an athlete, teammate, or other swimmer is feeling. Just let them feel in a safe and caring place. One day it might be you.
If you sense someone is really in trouble seek the help of a coach, teacher or parent. Don’t gossip about it. Just help them find what resources they need. You’ll make a difference. I promise.
Put the sport in perspective. It is an amazing part of a child’s life. But it should never define them. Celebrate every single achievement. Every day. Swimming should be a happy and safe place that inspires joy. Enjoy the process or the achievements will leave you feeling empty and wondering. Inspire others to do the same.
Acknowledge that depression is real. People can’t snap out of it at a moments notice but that does not mean they should be sidelined or miss the moments of joy. Embrace an athlete for who they are as a person.
Remember that our moments in this sport just like our days on earth are limited. Don’t waste them with regret or looking backwards. One day these will be memories. Help every swimmer who crosses your path make them as awesome as possible. Be someone’s helping hand. Let them know you care. Your touch point could change someone’s life.
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.