Courtesy of Donna Hale
It’s been a really long time since I took a vacation in June or July. So long I can’t remember. That’s summer swim season. My school year weekends are filled with long days spent in crowded indoor pools where Olympic hopefuls hone their craft before the sun rises. There’s so much truth to the new Phelp’s commercial that it’s what you do in the darkness that makes you shine in the light. Being an elite swimmer demands your everything everyday.
But summer swimming offers all kids special things that are not the backbone of USA Swimming. The closest you ever get to that summer swim feel is competing in the NCAA and only a small number continue on that journey. So as we approach time trials, relay carnivals and swimming caravans that fill the roads each Saturday morning here are just a few of the treasures of summer swim.
Summer swim is all about community and family. Friendships are forged and bonds are strengthened that help us celebrate with joyful elation and support one another during unbearable tragedy. I’ve felt it, experienced it and appreciate it beyond words. Everyone should be so lucky as to experience this unique gift of community.
Summer swim is one of the ways our children grow and become role models in a safe and nurturing environment. One day they are 8 and under learning to fly and in the blink of eye they are the ones on deck leading the way for the ones starting out. They are face painting, cheering and encouraging others — even the coolest 17 year olds! It’s all about the possibilities.
In a world where technology rules our world summer swim is still mostly hands on. You get to know your neighbors in close-by communities when you time side by side for four hours 7 or 8 Saturdays in row. Races are mostly decided by stop watches. And kids still have not found a way to lug their iPhones to the clerk of course or the starting line. So something amazing happens. They talk! They laugh! And make memories captured by the loyal team photographer.
Summer swim teaches sportsmanship from day one. The first lesson my daughter learned at four was you shake your opponents hands on. both sides of the lane — win or lose. It is something she has never forgotten or failed to do. It’s as much of a race ritual as putting on your goggles.
Traveling tacos, snowcones and a grilled burger are simple joys in a complex world. When I close my eyes and think about a summer meet, I can smell the sweet pleasures of a summer competition or a team pasta dinner. They remind me of friends loved and lost, smiling little ones once covered in chocolate and soon headed to college, and treasured friendships that stand the test of time.
I only have a few summer seasons remaining. But summer swim will forever be embedded in my heart. It’s where my baby developed an intense passion for the sport. It’s where I first met many of my closest community friends. And it gave my children something that can be missing in our insane and fast moving world: A sense of community and memories to treasure for a lifetime.
Time for summer swim. Here we go!
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.