The Best Feelings As A Competitive Swimmer

Courtesy: Corey He

As swimmers, we’ve experienced the worst of it all — through all the grueling sets and mid-season meets, swimming can be synonymous with pain, lactic acid, and the eternal feeling of always being tired and worn out.

But what about the good parts? Today, we’re looking at some of the most uplifting and rewarding sensations you can ever experience as a competitive swimmer. I’m sure we’ve all experienced these at one point or another in our swimming journeys, and it is these moments that make all the pain and lactic acid worthwhile.

Removing a Parachute.

When I used to train, our coach had us use parachutes, socks, cords, and all sorts of equipment for resistance training. And of course, I always felt like I was either not moving or swimming backwards — I was never really good at using resistance equipment.

The moment the socks or parachutes came off, though, I always remember feeling utterly invincible in the water. And especially if I put on some fins afterward, I would genuinely feel like I was flying.

Unfortunately, after a few more laps, the feeling wears off, and I’m back to the ordinary, average, and tired swimmer just trying to make it through practice in one piece. But for those few laps, I’d feel like I could take on the world.

Catching a Draft.

Whether it be in a race or practice, finding your way into someone else’s wake just makes your life a whole lot easier. Even better, it makes passing someone a lot easier as well. Especially during aerobic training, being able to “follow” the person in front always feels a lot more comfortable than having to lead a lane in practice.

And, of course, drafting off of someone in a race can truly be a lot of fun — as long as you don’t crash into the lane line and potentially get yourself a DQ.

On the other hand, finding yourself in someone’s “wash” or “waves” is a bit different: you’ll feel like you’re being tossed around in tsunami waves — and, as a result, not moving in the direction that you want to be moving in. But I digress.

Hitting a Best Time.

No explanation needed here. And especially if you’re coming off of a plateau, or an extended period of time where you’ve struggled to find improvement, finally hitting that PB (even if it’s only by a few hundredths of tenths) means that your hard work has paid off.

Bonus points if it’s a mid-season, unshaved/untapered best time.

Side note: is it just me, or do races in which you swim a best time feel like they hurt less?

Breaking a Barrier.

As swimmers, we love to touch the wall and see a time that ends in “.99” — or better yet, a time ends in “9.99.” And even better — if that time ends in “59.99,” breaking a minute-barrier is always a memorable milestone. I still remember when I broke the 1:00 barrier in my 100 free — the fact that I still remember this moment shows perhaps how monumental it was for me.

And, by this same logic, seeing a time that ends in “.00” can slightly ruin your mood — but again, I digress.

Hitting a Qualification Standard.

Or, as we often say as swimmers, “getting a cut.”

It’s something that you’ve been chasing all season. You go to practice thinking about the cut. You leave practice thinking about the cut. And you go to sleep and wake up the next day still thinking about the cut. It’s almost an obsession that takes over your conscience — and if you want it badly enough, it makes it all the more rewarding once you get the cut.

It’s truly something that lives rent-free in your mind.

And the great part is, once you get the cut you’ve been chasing, there’s always another cut to chase. From states to sectionals to futures to junior nationals and even Olympic Trials — and everything else in between — you always eye the next benchmark that seems impossible to attain. But that’s why we train and make sacrifices: we aim to realize the impossible.

Winning a Relay.

There’s always something special about swimming relays. You’re up on the blocks as your teammate closes in on the wall, and your heart starts beating out of your chest before you wind up and fly off the blocks.

And if you win a relay? There’s always something special about celebrating a win with three of your teammates — sure, winning an individual race is just as amazing, but winning a relay always seems to be just a touch more memorable (and fun).

Back-Halfing a Race.

Nothing ever beats that feeling when you notice out of the corner of your eye that you’re closing in on the person in front of you in the final 25 or 50 of a race. It’s as if your body flips a switch: for one moment, you feel the burn of lactic acid — the next moment, you feel a surge of adrenaline.

What’s even better is that while you’re back-halfing the race, everyone else can also see you catching up to them, which often leaves them feeling demoralized — even if there are still a few laps or meters to go. In other words, while they’re slowing down both physically and mentally, you’re riding a wave of momentum right past them.

And if this is to take the lead of a race? Few things beat this feeling.

Bonus: Ever heard of the phrase, “You’ve been Lezak’d?”

Final Thoughts

After all, all sports are meant to be physically and mentally taxing — but by the same token, being an athlete brings so many memories, sensations, emotions, and experiences that are truly unmatched in other aspects of our lives.

And so that’s why we train, that’s why we sacrifice. and that’s why we race. Because few things in life can be as rewarding as being an athlete.


Corey is a current junior at the University of Pennsylvania, studying biology and healthcare management on a pre-medicine track. Originally from New Jersey, he first jumped into the water when he was 4 years old and swam competitively all the way through high school. Prior to college, he swam for Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA. He hopes to pursue a career in sports medicine.

Leave a Reply

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Old guy in speedos
16 days ago

“To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their swim coaches.” – Conan the Breaststroker

24 days ago

putting on a suit and just feeling your hips float so high in the water is always a pleasure. But anchoring a relay win is definitely number 1

24 days ago

Watching Katie Ledecky pull the W 4 x 200 FR-R asses out of the fire on the anchor leg time and time again (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017).

24 days ago

Swimming shaved, tapered, and suited up should be on here. Unmatched feeling

24 days ago

I think anchoring a comeback winning relay should be on here by itself. Best feeling

Last edited 24 days ago by Tester
H2O Ninja
24 days ago

Get out swim! Hitting the mark while having your teammates rally around you for the joy of leaving practice early is worth dying in the pool for them.

This Guy
24 days ago

I can still remember this single Saturday practice when I was in college where it just felt like I could not tire out. It was a tough practice and for some reason I was able to push harder without exhausting myself than in any other practice in my life. It felt other worldly.
I have no idea what I ate, how I slept the night before or what factors contributed to that practice but I still remember it and can honestly kind of feel in my body just how that practice felt some 20 years later. It’s a strange thing but it’s a memory I will carry with me

Mr Piano
Reply to  This Guy
24 days ago

Dude I had that practice over winter break last season, it was the end of a week where I probably had the best practices of my life, and somehow I was able to even build on that. But then on Monday the magic was lost. Where did it go?

Reply to  This Guy
24 days ago

I remember a practice like that… probably around 25 years ago. 4x10x100m freestyle in early morning practice. It wasn’t a day where we usually had early morning practice but because of some school thing, I had to go in that day and it was just me and one other swimmer, who was a lot better than I was. Usually. But I felt like I could fly that morning and I touched the wall first… every. single. time. Those practices really stay with you.
Anyway, she later won 5 LC World Championships and I quit swimming (not in that order) 😀 But that practice was awesome!

Last edited 24 days ago by FST