Courtesy of Donna Hale
Swimming is an amazing and life-changing sport. You get to be part of an incredible community that becomes a part of you. Friends who love you. The thrill of competition. The chance to challenge your limits every day. But what about the darker side we rarely talk about? Tackling these issues head-on will make our sport stronger, and help swimming grow.
Phelps, Franklin and many other major competitors are finally shedding light on how many athletes are impacted by depression, but won’t seek help or treatment. It’s time to do more. It’s time to shed light on the darkness so parents, coaches, teammates and athletes understand it is ok not to be ok. And it’s imperative to seek help and support. Being an athlete is demanding and sometimes all consuming. But athletes are also human. Demands of practice, academics, and life can overwhelm anyone. Taking that first step when you see and feel the signs is vital. It does not mean you are weak, but rather brave. Don’t let depression rob you of the pure joys of this sport.
Injuries and Health Issues
The bottom line is if you swim long enough you will get injured. And it will suck. But training through injury will not get you back in pool sooner. It does not make you tough. But dealing with the injury teaches you resilience and courage. Many swimmers, in an attempt to create the perfect swim body, do serious damage to their health and mental state by restricting calories. Eating disorders are more common than anyone wants to admit. First of all there is no perfect swim body. Food is fuel your body needs. Your body knows what you need. Embrace being strong. Strong is the new beautiful. So carry those broad shoulders with pride. And if you are struggling seek help. And if you see a fellow athlete in trouble reach out to them or tell your coach. A healthy body will swim faster.
Yes, swim drama exists in every corner of our sport from summer league to college campuses. Recognize it for what it is and learn to move beyond it. It drains your spirit and robs you of joy. Sometimes you might need to seek out a new set of teammates. One thing you can do as an athlete and a parent is refuse to engage. Usually it is fueled by swimmers or parents with severe self-esteem problems. Sometimes coaches unknowingly or willingly encourage it. Remember why you swim. Do not let anyone steal even one moment of joy from you with nonsense or petty behavior. This is your journey. Surround yourself with people passionate about swimming. You deserve it. And anyone that does not share that attitude is not worth a moment of worry. As I have said before: Be the One Who Shines.
Life after Swim
Many swimmers my daughter and I know have devoted their lives to this sport. As a whole we do not do a great job of preparing them for the end. Yes, there is Masters. But there is something about the last college meet and the final moments as a college athlete that is profoundly heartbreaking. Suddenly there are no more races. No more time goals. You’re competing in an eight and under summer meet and the next thing you know it’s your last race. Every athlete feels a little differently. But if you talk to most, they long for one more race with their team. One more “take your mark. “. One more time to stretch, dive and reach for the wall. What they have is a lifetime of memories and moments to cherish because they were part of something so special that words do not do it justice. Their last race to the wall and a glance at their partner through all the years: the clock. And they carry on with the rest of their story.
Donna Hale has been a swim mom for 14 years. Her daughter is a freshman swimmer for the Davis & Elkins Senators.